By Rob Cole
Welsh Winter Olympian Laura Deas has found herself embroiled in a row surrounding the Team GB skeleton suits on the eve of the biggest race of her career in Pyeongchang.
In three of the six practice runs either defending Olympic champion Lizzy Yarnold or her Team GB team mate Deas proved fastest. It was the same in the men’s event, where Dom Parsons was fastest in two of the four runs.
That led to protests from a number of nations about the hi-tech aerodynamic suits worn by the Brits. Yarnold and Deas haven’t finished higher than third in any of the World Cup races this season and Parsons has only twice been in the top 10.
The issue is due to be discussed at a team captain’s meeting and former world champion Katie Uhlaender claims it is not the first time eyebrows have been raised over British equipment.
“A lot of athletes and coaches have questioned about whether the suits are legal,” said the American, who finished fourth at the Sochi 2014 Olympics.
“I think this has been a question posed of Great Britain in the last two Olympics, starting in 2010 with Amy Williams and her helmet and suit.
“The rules state that everyone is supposed to have access to the same equipment as far as helmets and speed suits go and not have any aerodynamic attachments on the helmet or suit. I think it’s right to ask the question and make sure everyone is on a fair playing field.
“I was trying to get a suit of the same quality and I was told it was illegal. This is like Amy’s helmet in 2010 and, in my opinion, that helmet was illegal.”
The skeleton suits have been developed by the same company behind major technological advancements in British Cycling in recent years. Northampton-based TotalSim have been heavily involved in aerodynamic developments for equipment used by Team GB cyclists at the last three Olympics.
They have now developed a skeleton suit featuring drag-resistant ridges to reduce the amount of wind resistance. Despite the protests from rival nations, Team GB claim they have been given the green light to use the controversial suits in Pyeongchang.
“We are confident that all competition equipment meets the technical and commercial requirements for every sport and discipline,” said a spokesman. “We do not comment on specific technical aspects of equipment prior to competition.”
The 29-year-old Deas, from Wrexham, will line-up for her Olympic debut on Friday full of confidence after finishing second in Monday’s training run just behind Austria’s Janine Flock. Yarnold finished third.
Deas claimed her first World Cup win in November 2015 and was fourth at the 2017 World Championships. This is her first Winter Olympics and she is gunning for a medal.
“I’m in a pretty good place at the moment. There is a lot of responsibility on us because we have received a lot of funding and we’ve had considerable success in skeleton in the past,” said Deas.
“I’ve been a full-time athlete for two Olympic cycles, so finally getting to the Games is a great feeling. The fact I’ve produced some good results in the past gives me real confidence and the last eight years have all been about producing the goods in Pyeongchang.
“But just getting to the Games isn’t enough for me. I’ve put in the hard yards and I want to win a medal. I’ve been around long enough to know what I am doing, although 10 years ago I had never even heard of skeleton racing.”
Show jumping was Deas’ first love and she only came into skeleton when she signed up for the ‘Go for Gold’ campaign promoted by UK Sport. That gave her the chance to show off her physical and competitive potential and she has grown from there in one of the more hazardous of sports.
“I would be lying if I said it isn’t scary. After all, you are going hard first down hill on an icy track at between 60-70mph without any control,” admitted Deas.
“It is all a question of planning the course, preparing well and making quick decisions. I’ve never been afraid to try something that puts me outside my comfort zone and skeleton is all about controlling your fear and putting it to one side.
“It takes years to master the event and I do now fell as though I am in control of what I’m doing. To begin with you learn how to steer, then you have to understand what the track is trying to do to the sled and it is all about finding the fastest line from top to bottom.”
The highest speed she has hit is 85mph on the track at Whistler, which she admits is the most hair raising track of them all. The Olympic course is more technical.