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Lizzy Yarnold's Olympic gold - a journey

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Lizzy Yarnold's skeleton gold medal at the Sochi Olympics on Friday was only the 10th gold in British winter Olympic history - a history which dates back to 1924.

It is, however, the second gold medal in skeleton in as many Winter Games, following Amy Williams' success at Vancouver in 2010. Add to that the fact that GB Skeleton has won medals in every Games since its reintroduction in 2002 and it is clear that Team GB is becoming the dominant force in the sport.

The success of Team GB in the discipline can be put down to two factors; an innovative engineering collaboration that designs the equipment and an equally ingenious talent identification programme that matches the equipment with world-class athletes.

In 2008, UK Sport, the country's elite sport agency tasked with delivering success for British athletes, formed a technology partnership with defence specialist BAE Systems to support Team GB's Olympic athletes.

One of the successes of the partnership – recently renewed to cover the Rio 2016 Games – was "Arthur the sled", which Amy Williams rode to victory at the Vancouver Games. This year's winning sled, ridden by Yarnold, is a variant of the same sled and also designed by BAE Systems.

In total, BAE has invested £1.5m since 2008 in researching and designing sports equipment and training aids (to read more about the partnership and the way it is helping Team GB, click here for a feature article in Sports Management magazine.

But world class equipment can't race on its own - it needs to be used by world class people. To match the kit with sporting talent, UK Sport continually operates a number of programmes to unearth potential athletes.

One of these is Girls4Gold, the single most extensive female sporting talent recruitment drive ever undertaken in Great Britain - and the one that discovered Lizzie Yarnold.

Yarnold was a regional level heptathlete studying at the University of Gloucestershire when she responded to a targeted advert promoting a joint initiative between UK Sport, The English Institute of Sport and British Skeleton.

Yarnold was one of 900 athletes to attend the first testing phase of Girls4Gold. She had cited a "passion for all sport" in her original application and soon caught the eye of the assembled sports scientists.

She was considered for a range of sports before one of the scientists identified her as an athlete who could excel in skeleton. She then advanced to become one of four athletes to join British Skeleton's National Lottery Funded World Class Programme.

Three testing phases then followed before Yarnold joined the "Skeleton Futures" programme and sampled her first run at Lillehammer, Norway in March 2009.

Since then Lizzy has made rapid progress: becoming Junior World Champion in 2012 and finishing the current 2013-14 season as the World Cup Champion.

On Friday, she won the Olympic gold.

Natalie Dunman, who manages the talent identification programme, said: "I can still recall when Lizzy arrived at the first testing phase and it quickly became apparent to the team she had the potential to succeed in elite sport.

"Skeleton was the best fit for Lizzy's skill set and personality. Working closely with the British Skeleton programme we have learnt a lot from Lizzy's journey to success and look forward to applying this in current and future development programmes both within Skeleton and across other sports.

"We were always confident our carefully planned and implemented talent identification programme could achieve success and it has taken a very special young woman with a huge amount of determination and commitment to realise the potential of this approach in such an accelerated timescale."

Liz Nicholl, CEO of UK Sport, added: "It was very special to see Lizzy race to a Gold medal in Sochi so soon after she first took up the sport. Her rapid development to a world class level has required fearless commitment and precision planning and support to develop and perform at such speed."

"Our talent identification campaigns have unearthed three Olympic medallists now and we are committed to continuing to run these campaigns to get talented sportswomen and men in to the right sports wherever there is the opportunity and need."

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How Lizzy Yarnold's win at the Sochi Olympics is the result of a world class technology partnership combined with an innovative talent identification programme.
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