Amy Williams remembers the first time she went from the top of the skeleton track. "I bit the top bit of my tongue off ... it's like every emotion you've ever felt, all in one go," Williams tells ESPN. "You're scared, you're excited, you've got adrenaline, you've got the speed, you've got the rush, you're emotional, you're in pain as you've hit the wall. Then you kind of want to do it again and not hit 10 walls and only hit nine." In Vancouver in 2010, seven or so years later, she won Winter Olympic gold for Great Britain.
The triumph in 2010 capped eight years of steady improvement for British female skeleton riders -- first Alex Coomber took bronze in Salt Lake City in 2002, then Shelley Rudman slid to silver in Turin four years later. Williams' benchmark was then matched by Lizzy Yarnold who won gold at Sochi 2014 to continue a dominant spell for a nation where usually the faintest drop of snow or hint of ice brings the entire United Kingdom to a standstill.
Yarnold and teammate Laura Deas compete this time in Pyeongchang, with reasonable expectations upon them. But how exactly has Team GB managed to reach this point, and all the highs along the way?
It is an unlikely marriage, but the success is a lesson in "maximising what you can maximise", according to British Skeleton's head of performance Danny Holdcroft. He has been watching over Yarnold and Laura Deas' form heading into Pyeongchang ahead of Friday's first two heats, which will take place against a backdrop of competitors questioning Britain's new skinsuits. It is not a new tale of British technology being questioned near an Olympics, but they are competition legal, and the aspirations remain the same.
"We expect one medal, that's our mandate. We've delivered four in a row and we don't want to break that [streak] this time," Holdcroft says. Skeleton has received over £6m worth of funding from UK Sport in the last quarter, the most of all the winter sports.
When Simon Timson, now performance director at the Lawn Tennis Association, was put in charge of the skeleton programme back in 2001, he had an annual budget of £10,000. He put the money into training. As Owen Slot's book 'Talent Lab' explains, these were the foundations of British Skeleton's current mantra of excelling at factors in their control.
The sport caught Williams' eye in 2002 at Salt Lake City. She was at that point a 400 metres runner, but had shin splints and the muscular condition Compartment Syndrome, so was looking for a new athletic outlet. A chance conversation in the gym at the University of Bath saw her journey to the push track there -- it was and still is the base for British Skeleton. She impressed, and was taken into the programme.
Maximising what you can maximise
It was a relentless culture of excellence. If you didn't meet certain targets, you were off the team, as medals mean funding.
"If you have the best equipment, best coaches and the most amount of ice time, then that formula should give you the best athlete," Williams says. "But we didn't have our ice track, so we needed physically the best athletes.
"You're never going to be a world-class slider if you're never going to be the best in the world at sprinting at the top, pushing our sleds. Our programme has been about getting the best power-speed athlete so we then teach people how to be the best pushers, then we take you on to ice, teach you how to slide and then you either make the cut or not. But then at least you're a good pusher to begin with. And that cut-throat culture is there from the day you first trot along to a talent ID day."
Williams feels Britain's skeleton success is down to a "mixture of system and athletes", while Holdcroft talks about vision, efficient structure, transparency -- "once you are part of the skeleton family, you're always part of it" - innovation and excellence while equally remembering they are dealing with people. "If you're not a people-orientated person, then there's a limit to the impact you can have," he says. "If we come to the start line in a great place, that's powerful." Added to this are the exceptional athletes hurling themselves head first down the track.
One challenge is making up the shortfall of ice time. Deas, one of two medal hopes in the women's skeleton, is sat in a Bath café, playing out the 1,376m Pyeongchang track in her mind, as her right hand moves with memory. "It goes...right, left, right, right, left, right, left, right, left, left, right, right, left, right." Then a smile. "With Pyeongchang there isn't anywhere you can really switch off, it just comes at you. It's technical question after technical question."
Whenever British skeleton athletes go on a track, they have to remember every aspect of it, glean every little bit of knowledge. It's a rarity, rather than an everyday occurrence.
"In an average race week ... the competition venue only has to offer six training runs, they are about a minute long," Deas says. "You have six minutes to figure it out before you race. You have a couple of weeks on ice in pre-season where you might get 20 runs in -- we go to Lillehammer [in Norway], it's colder up there.
"Ice time is very, very limited. I think that's something that isn't emphasised enough. We get 20 or 30 runs versus the Germans on 1000.
"We have turned that into our advantage. We do punch above our weight. We don't just slide, we are always focused on what we can get out of it. We don't have the luxury of going to do a couple of runs in a weekend. There are disadvantages - less exposure means less time to learn. But when we do slide, when you have a limited time to figure things out, we've learnt to learn quickly."
A culture of winning
Williams' fire was lit when she failed to qualify for Turin 2006. She vowed never to let that happen again, and sacrificed her social life. "I beasted myself," she says and then came her shot at personal redemption at Vancouver 2010.
"I had broken track records in training so I knew I could beat anyone and everyone but on race day I was so inconsistent. Everyone else suddenly got half a second quicker and I didn't know why.
"Vancouver it all came together. I knew I was the strongest pusher and I did a lot of extra training, I spent hours in wind tunnels. I did everything. I got to the point where I had cracked the code, I knew how to win."
She bowed out in 2012. Her body was in pieces, and she was on inferior technology to Yarnold and Deas. "They said my sled [had] won the Olympics ... technology moves on, mine was a prototype sled which happened to have won on that track on the day."
But her legacy was proof that gold was a realistic goal, rather than a mere flight of fancy. "Lizzy has said before that when she watched me win, she knew it wasn't impossible. It was a case of 'if she can do it, I can do it'. When you're successful, you're on the podium ... it gives you power."
Yarnold won gold in Sochi, she is peaking in time for these Games and striving to succeed continues to be the lifeblood. Deas, competing in her second Olympics in Pyeongchang, remembers one of the early meetings she attended as part of a 2009 UK Sport talent ID scheme. She went along to the day with a background of eventing and running. "I'm so competitive," Deas tells ESPN. "I remember crying in frustration, playing Monopoly against my brother because I was winning, and he gave up.
"I thought I was an ideal candidate for pentathlon and then skeleton got in touch and I thought, 'wow, that's awesome'. We were sat in the university and one of the Talent ID guys said: 'We really think that at least one of you sat here today will be on an Olympic podium in the next 10 years', and there were only 10 of us in the room. From the word go, it's very vocal, it's about long-term targets. It puts a fire in your belly."
Deas has a good shot of a medal in Pyeongchang, as does reigning champion Yarnold. For Deas, who finished second in testing, her competitive nature, and having failed to qualify for Sochi means she is more determined than ever to come away from these Games with a medal. "I'm competitive, I don't just want to make up the numbers," she says. "You have to look at how strong the women's international group is. How many different nations have podiumed this year -- six, maybe more? Any of the top 10 can be competitive."
Holdcroft is not in Pyeongchang -- he's in Germany watching over the development squad, looking for future champions. The drive for success is unwavering. "If you see what we've done on the development circle this year, it's been impressive. We've won 18 medals on the development circuits and another 20 top six places. The whole mantra and programme we've put into place is ultra-positive for Beijing. We've got a strong squad for Pyeongchang and we're confident that if we go out and execute, then we're going to be in a very good place on Feb. 18 to top the cake off with some nice icing."
For Williams, she feels that skeleton is an ever-evolving beast and as it continues to develop, the success continues. When Yarnold and Deas take to the track on Friday, she will be watching on from the commentator's position, hit by pangs of nostalgia but also pride at being the one who kicked off the expectation of gold in skeleton.
"Vancouver feels like it never happened, it feels like forever. I've always wanted to do more with the sport," she says. "It was only in Sochi when it hit me ... I had got a medal. It was weird watching Lizzy. Everyone is fighting for a medal and I had one at home. It really hit me then, I was crying all the time. But now eight years later at Pyeongchang ... it's a bit like, well ... I've got one of them!"