British skeleton stars are banking on more top-secret innovations to help them maintain an Olympic medal streak going back two decades.
Skeleton has yielded seven medals for the British over the last five Games, back to when the sport was reintroduced to the Olympic program in 2002.
Great Britain won three medals in Pyeongchang four years ago and the team banks on technological advances in order to mitigate having minimal access to ice.
Aerodynamic skin-suits were credited with helping Lizzy Yarnold retain her women’s title four years ago, and perhaps more notably with lifting Laura Deas and Dom Parsons – ranked seventh and 12th on their World Cup circuits – into bronze medal results.
British Skeleton performance director Natalie Dunman has promised further surprises with their sleds and race suits used by the four-strong British team at the Beijing Games.
The full extent of their high-tech gear is being kept under wraps until the opening race day on February 10.
Dunman said: “We are constantly trying to push the boundaries and edges of what we’re doing. Mainly we’re looking and sleds and suits, and we always keep a little surprise in store.
“It’s small innovations – it’s not something you’re going to say, ‘oh my God, it’s completely different’, because you’ve got to follow the rules. But they are things that we hope will make a difference.”
Britain has been at the forefront of innovation in the sport since it was reintroduced to the programme in 2002. World champion Kristan Bromley is a pioneer in sled design and helped produce the sled that swept Alex Coomber to bronze in Salt Lake City.
In 2010, the US team protested about a spoiler on the back of Amy Williams’ helmet midway through her surprise surge to gold in Vancouver, although the protests were swiftly dismissed by officials.
British Skeleton continues to benefit from close ties with technicians based at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, where innovations in sports such as cycling are shared across the range of summer and winter sports.
British Cycling’s research arm became known as The Secret Squirrel Club and it has been a much-lauded factor in their domination at the Olympics since the 2008 Beijing Games.
“We are really lucky that we benefit from the EIS system and we are 100 per cent playing by the rules at all times,” said Dunman, who denied that the British team were seeking an unfair advantage over their more traditional winter sports rivals.
“I think everybody uses their own advantage. We don’t have a track so we are very much up against it when it comes to competing against pretty much everyone else who is here.
“We are trying to use our own advantage in terms planning and preparations, in the ways that we coach, and the way that we design our kit. Every nation has some advantage over the others and you try to push it to the max.”