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DERBY'S RISING SKELETON STAR - FREYA TARBIT


Derby's Freya Tarbit is a rising star in the sport of skeleton and is certainly someone to watch out for in the next few years. The 21 year-old recently finished in tenth place out of a final field of 20 in the World Junior Championships in Austria. Considering this was Freya's first major event in skeleton, this was a really encouraging result.


While the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics have arrived a little too early in Freya's career for her to have qualified for, there is a very real chance that Freya could feature in the following Winter Olympics in 2026.


Derbyshire Media Company caught up with Freya recently to find out how she got started in skeleton, how she feels about her performance at the World Junior Championships and what her targets are for the next few years.


When someone watches skeleton for the first time on television, many are often left wondering how someone even gets started for a career in such a unique sport which clearly has an element of danger to it as well. It's certainly not a sport for the faint-hearted! Freya reveals that it's a question she's already been asked a lot:


"It's definitely always the first question I get because people look at the sport and just think, that's mad! So I always followed the skeleton event when the Winter Olympics was on. I just thought that it looked like a really fun sport to do and that I'd like to give it a try. The University of Bath, which is where I train now, do public taster sessions that you can sign up for. When I was 16, my dad signed me up for one of these because I wanted to give it a go but I pulled my hamstring just before which meant I couldn't do it. A year later, as like an end of A-levels present, my dad went on the BBSA (British Bobsleigh & Skeleton Association) website again to sign me up for it and he noticed that there was a talent ID programme that they were running to look out for future stars. So he emailed the BBSA and asked if I could be a part of it which they said yes to - and it was a recruitment process from thereon. We did loads of phases where they would then cut us down after each one - there were over 3,000 applications for this talent ID programme. And then six of us eventually were selected from the programme to train full-time".


Skeleton also holds a rather unique place in British sport as it's one of the very few winter sports that Team GB perform very well in. In fact, Great Britain are the only nation on the planet to have won a medal in the sport for every single time that it's been contested at a Winter Olympics. The event was contested in 1928 and 1948 before being frozen out for a number of decades before being allowed back into the Games in 2002 where it has remained ever since. Since its return, skeleton has become one of the most popular and entertaining sports at the Games. But how accessible is skeleton in the UK when Team GB obviously has nowhere near as many natural winter sports environments compared to a number of other nations, particularly in Europe?


"It does make it a bit tough that we're not a snowy country! The University of Bath has a dry push track where we can practice the start of your skeleton run. They run taster sessions for the public so anybody can come down and pay to have a go. That's the same for bobsleigh as well as skeleton. So that's really accessible. Also, every two years, UK Sport runs a talent ID campaign to bring in new athletes. That's usually advertised by UK Sport as well as the BBSA social media channels and website. So if you're interested in getting into skeleton or bobsleigh, definitely be on the lookout for any announcements there because I'm sure there will be one shortly after the Beijing Games has finished. So yeah, a lot of it works through talent ID processes. And if you do come down to a taster session and the people there notice that you've got potential, then they will definitely have a word with you and ask if you would like to come down again".


So, why is Team GB so successful when it comes to skeleton? What is it about skeleton that Britain can actually compete as a world-leading nation in comparison to pretty much every other winter sport where medals are much more a rarity? Is it still a mystery? Freya thinks there are a couple of reasons why skeleton is comfortably Britain's most successful winter sport:


"It's crazy - you wouldn't think that Britain would excel as much as they have in skeleton, which is why it's so amazing and so cool to be a part of the programme for it...as part of our programme, the athletes are really pushed hard for the start phase of a skeleton run. That's why we have a dry push track in Bath. So that's one main advantage that we have - we work all summer on our push starts because having a good push start gives you such an advantage throughout the race. So Britain is renowned in the sport for having really good starts. Also, we're really good at getting to learn lots of different tracks quickly. Because we're not a winter country, we don't have as much time on tracks as other nations. So when we are at an actual track, say for like three or four weeks, we have to really hone in our skills during that time and learn as much about that track as we can during that short space of time. Clearly it's working, which is nice!"






With her first major skeleton event now behind her, Freya is satisfied with her performance when reflecting on it:


"It was such an amazing experience. It was my first ever Junior World Championships and it was in my first ever year of competition. So I was just taking it all in. It was easily the biggest competition I'd ever been involved in. Innsbruck is a beautiful city and the whole experience was just amazing. I was happy with my result - a top ten finish in my first ever junior worlds is a good result and I am happy with that; but obviously, as an athlete, you always want more and you always look at the areas where you can improve. So yeah, I'm satisfied with the result, but always eager to do more. Hopefully, next year I can build on that in the next junior world championships."


We also asked Freya what the rest of 2022 holds for her:


"So the World Junior Championships that I've just competed in was actually my last competition of the 2021-22 season for skeleton. Very soon, I'll be heading off with others on the programme to Latvia for a training camp for three weeks. We'll all be watching the Winter Olympics while we're there too, which will be nice. That will be our last training camp for this season. The 2022-23 season will start in October - so until then we're back into full-time gym training to get ready for when we go back out again in October."


In our interview, Freya went on to reveal what her most inspiring sporting moment is. It features none other than a British skeleton legend and arguably the most coveted moment so far in UK winter sports history:


"I have to say it was Lizzy Yarnold becoming a double Winter Olympic gold medallist in Pyeongchang. That was an amazing moment and something that no Brit had ever achieved before. To watch her do that was incredible. I think that put Britain on the map for skeleton. We shouldn't really be good at it, so to then have a double gold medallist in the sport was crazy. I remember watching a lot of the 2018 Winter Olympics and thinking that the skeleton event just looked so much fun and that I'd love to be able to do that."


A question that is often asked of skeleton athletes is what it actually feels like to go down the track on their sled. Skeleton athletes travel at extraordinary speeds on tracks with limited space and there can be no downplaying the danger that is attached to the sport. Just how do skeleton athletes keep control of their sled? Do they even have to endure g-force when racing?


"You do experience g-force, yeah. Some tracks are really, really high pressure. You'll go into some corners and your head will get pushed down towards the ice because of all the pressure. When you're in a corner, you can't actually see where you're going - you have to feel where to steer. Then you'll exit the corner and the pressure will release and your head will rise back up. That's why we have to work so much on neck strength...when I first started, it sounds a bit silly to say this, but everything comes at you so fast that when you get off the track, you're like 'aargh, I don't know what just happened!' But as you learn more about sliding, the experience of racing down the tracks begins to slow down. Obviously, everything still comes at you really quickly, but with a greater understanding of what's going on the experience itself begins to slow down. That's the best way I can describe it. You're able to take in more and know what to do three or four corners ahead about where you will need to be".


At the end of our chat, we were keen to know what Freya's targets are for her career - both short term and long term:


"Obviously, the main target is to be at the 2026 Winter Olympics. Just to be able to say, I'm an Olympian - that would be amazing. My targets for the moment are to just move up through the circuits. Because I only started sliding three years ago, I'm currently on the lowest level Cup which is called the Europa Cup. So I'd like to eventually move up to World Cup level. My other target for now is to be able to slide on as many different tracks as possible. That's because every single track is different and requires different skills. So my main goal for now is to be able to slide them all well and prove that I'm a versatile slider."


The skeleton events at the up and coming Beijing Winter Olympics begin on the tenth of February and end two days later on the 12th. There promises to be more inspiring moments to come for Freya Tarbit as she watches on at her training camp in Latvia.

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