‘The moment you win an Olympic medal is one of relief,’ Amy Williams admits.
‘I wish could go back and relive it, but all I really remember is that relief – that all of the hard work, absolutely flogging your body, making sure everything you eat is good for you, going to bed at 9:30 every single night, the raw dedication that no one else really sees, was all worth it.’
She’s speaking at Kitting Out, the event where those participating in the Winter Olympics receive their full Team GB outfit. Everyone from first timers to seasoned pros is in attendance – Amy, who won a gold medal in the women’s skeleton at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, is there in an ambassador capacity, having retired from the sport in 2012. It was, she maintains, the right decision – but some days, she still wonders if there could have been another win.
‘There’s still a part of me that felt like I’d cracked my code; if I competed a little bit longer, I knew and believed I could win another medal if I went to another games,’ she says. ‘Half of me thinks I’d do anything just to grab a sled. I miss feeling that fit, I miss knowing that I was the best in the world, feeling physically strong, going to the gym, lifting heavy weights. I love that side of it.’
However, the road to the top of her game was not an easy one for Amy. She started training at university, where she met some bobsleigh skeleton athletes in the gym. They let her ‘sneak in’ to their training session, where she discovered she had a knack for pushing, and decided to take it to the next level.
‘I joined an army ice camp, because the military were the only way of doing the ice sports back then,’ she explains. ‘Back in 2002, there was absolutely no funding – I remember going to welding workspaces with my old coach and trying to cut metal out of a man’s sled just to make it lighter. However, as the sport got better and better – and as we slowly got better and won some medals – more money began to roll in.’
Then in 2006, she missed out on the Turin Olympics – there was only one spot for a woman, and she wasn’t top of the rankings.
‘That really drove me, put the fire in my belly for the next four years to never miss out on a games again,’ she says. ‘I was going to compete, I was going to get a medal.’
‘Until you get that phone call saying you’re chosen, and you come to a day like now, Kitting Out, looking at those five rings on your chest, it really doesn’t hit you. Those rings mean a lot – it’s doing it for your country at the highest possible level. I’m very patriotic, I love the Queen, I love the Royal Family, I love our Union Jack flag. There’s nothing better than an Olympic Games, knowing that you’re walking behind your flag in an opening ceremony.’
Competing (and subsequently winning) in Vancouver gave her the validation she’d been craving: ‘It’s peaking at the right time – it wasn’t flukey, it was meant to be, it was meant to happen. It was like, “yeah, I knew I could do that.” And I’d not just done it for me – I’d done it for the team, the coaches, and the country It’s a memory you never forget.’
But being an Olympian isn’t without its challenges – ‘I’ve had a lot of injuries over my years, a lot of damaged discs, I’ve had four major knee operations. After going through so many epidurals and painkillers and injections, the team doctors started saying to me, “you need to look after your body, you’ve only got one”. I did take their advice and made the decision to retire – but I’m still troubled daily now with pain.’
Since then, Amy’s continued her career in sport in a different way – she’s presented BBC Two’s Ski Sunday, and taken on the role of commentating (specialising, of course, in ice sports). In 2015, she faced another huge, but very different physical challenge, when she and husband Craig became parents to son Oscar.
‘A friend of mine, [world champion freediver] Tanya Streeter, said “I’ve got all of my world records, but being a mum beats any of it” – and I never believed her until it happened,’ Amy explains. ‘The day you give birth, it’s just like winning gold, but on a different level.’
‘It’s hard seeing your body change – you were this athlete in the best form of your life, strong, fit, muscular, lean, and then all of a sudden you stop, you’ve had operations, you’re not the same person. But you’re a woman and you’re growing a child, you’re doing what that body was made to do in different kind of way. It’s a really strong, powerful feeling.’
‘Looking at the little lad, on the verge of walking, it’s amazing to see him every day and realise your life is very different, but also to tell yourself that it’s just as important as wining a medal. It’s incomparable.’