Liz Yarnold and Katie Uhlaender on keeping skeleton racing clean
PARK CITY, Utah — On Nov. 18, the BMW IBSF World Cup skeleton race at the Utah Olympic Park started to draw down. The winners had been determined, with Russia’s Elena Nikitina finishing first and setting a new push record for women’s skeleton at the UOP.
As the competition concluded, Lizzy Yarnold, 2014’s gold medalist at the Sochi Olympics for Great Britain, got her gear in order. Just before getting on the truck back to the top, Yarnold, who had placed eighth overall, bumped into third-place finisher Jacqueline Loelling of Germany, and remarked on how pretty the bouquet of roses Loelling had won was.
Without a thought, Loelling plucked one of the roses out of the bouquet and gave it to Yarnold, who thanked her with genuine surprise, then hopped on the truck.
“A single red rose from another athlete is very, very, romantic, and shows that women support women, and even though we are enemies on the track, we are very much supporting each other in life,” Yarnold said as the truck bounced up the road back to the starting line. “We’re quite focused all the time and it’s nice to remember we’re not just athletes, we’re women, we’re sisters, we’re daughters and everything.”
The rose was a bright spot in a year when massive doping problems within the Olympics have been brought to light. Since 2014, more than 100 Russian athletes have been positively confirmed for doping by the International Olympic Committee. Those findings have brought clean athletes closer together.
Sitting across from Yarnold, American slider Katie Uhlaender joined the conversation.
“I have the utmost respect for Maya (Pedersen) and Liz,” she said, referencing the Swiss slider, also on the truck. “If you handle it the right way and you support each other, you end up finding out what you’re truly capable of, and I think that’s what sport is about.”
Uhlaender said she admired Yarnold’s commitment to clean sport. She has spoken out against doping following the flood of positive test results from Russian athletes.
“I thank you for that,” Uhlaender said.
“Gotta do our bit,” Yarnold replied.
Uhlaender said Yarnold’s commitment shows how much the British athlete respects the sport, and said it inspires her to compete harder. As for doping, Uhlaender said athletes are trying to remain upbeat.
“For me, looking at someone who I know is a clean athlete and who is competing well and supporting not just her teammates but her overall competitors, that’s the attitude and that’s the focus on what we can control,” she said. “The news and all the things outside of our community are just distractions. We are doing our best to just focus on competing with integrity and honor and respecting each other.”
On Nov. 22, just days after the BMW World Cup in Park City, Nikitina, who took bronze in Sochi, and Alexander Tretyakov, a Sochi gold medalist who finished sixth at the UOP, were banned from competition by the International Olympic Committee for doping.
The results leave the U.S. as Sochi’s medal leader. On Dec. 5, the IOC will rule on whether to ban Russia from the 2018 games or not.
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