Eight years ago, at the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, British skeleton athlete Amy Williams MBE broke two course records and scooped Britain’s first individual gold medal for 30 years. Fast-forward to today and the retired athlete and mum-of-one (Amy has an 11-month-old son, Oscar) is about to head to PyeongChang to commentate at this year’s Winter Olympics.
Here, Amy chats about GB medal hopes, motherhood and how she’s back on the bike training for the 100km Dream Challenges Ride the Night event.
You’re an ambassador for the Dream Challenges 100km Ride the Night cycling event. What appealed to you about the event?
It sounds like a fun challenge that will motivate me to get fit again. It will get me back on my trusted stead, a Liv bike, which I miss riding after doing Tour de Celeb (Amy was part of team of celebrities who cycled the 122km L’Etape du Tour in 2016). I’m always looking for something to do that gets me in shape, fit, and pushes me out of my comfort zone. Doing 100km through the night on the streets of London will be an experience, more so being all women. It’s also raising money for some really important women’s cancer charities which are close to a lot of people’s hearts – so many people know someone, either family or close friends, who have been affected by the horrible illness.
You’ve previously trained seriously on the bike and you took part in Tour de Celeb – what kind of bike do you own?
Well, I hadn’t done much cycling before the TV show, just a few rides out with friends over the years on my Boardman road bike. I took on the challenge of doing the Etape de Tour as a way of getting fit again after my fourth knee operation. Being able to ride the same route as the pro riders on the Tour de France, on closed roads, with thousands of other like-minded people is an amazing opportunity. For this I got myself a Giant Liv Envie bike – she’s so light to ride and I fell in love! She had Di2 (electronic) gearing and they were so slick compared to traditional mechanical gears.
More recently you’ve been training on the Wattbike – do you have one at home?
Yes, I do. I’m lucky to have made some friends at Wattbike and they’ve been kind enough to loan me one in preparation for the Ride the Night event. It’s set up in my garage room, which is great for when it’s too wet and cold to go on my bike. I manage to get a ride done in the afternoon when my son is asleep. I can nip in and do a quick 30/40 minutes.
What kind of sessions are you doing on the Wattbike?
At the moment, I’m just going on it as and when I have free time. I signed up to Zwift (the virtual cycling platform) and I love it. On there, people post rides that are 30/40/60+ minutes long so I join in one of them. It’s great motivation seeing other people virtually on their bikes riding at the same time as you.
Do you do any strength work or running as part of your training at the moment?
I’m also an ambassador for the Winter Run 10km which took place last weekend in London, so I’ve been getting three running sessions in a week. On top of this, I sit on the Wattbike two times a week, and then do two fitness classes. That’s the plan, but sometimes none of this happens due to work and the sleeping habits of Oscar, my son. Yet other weeks I manage to do something every day; sometimes a run and a bike in one day. In my fitness classes, I either do HIIT sessions, punch and squat, or circuits. Due to my previous knee injuries and operations I can find running difficult and can’t do any more than 3 sessions a week. I keep the sessions around 7km as I know if I go longer I’ll find it hard to walk for a day or two.
Your son, Oscar, is 11-months. Is it tricky squeezing training sessions in?
Yes, it can be hard. It depends on how well the night’s sleep went as to how shattered I am. My 30-40 minute jogs, we do together. I have a great iCandy all-terrain buggy so it’s great to go along the canal that I live next to. He is, however, pretty tough to push up all the hills we have in Bath!
I try and fit in the Wattbike when he’s having his afternoon nap. He’ll sleep anywhere from 45-minutes to 2 hours, so I do what I can in that time, along with tidying the house, doing email catch-ups and having my lunch. You have to learn that you can’t always do what you want to do, and also to not be hard on yourself if the day doesn’t go to plan because the baby has other ideas!
How have you found the process of getting back to fitness after having Oscar?
It’s been quite a long journey. I took it really steady in the first 3/4 months, only walking. I had to recover from a tough birth, so I needed to take it very slow. I then increased my walking distance and added in a few minutes of jogging, then building the distances up.
I found a great women-only gym in Bath, so I’d take Oscar along in the car seat, and now the buggy, and he sits and watches me do my boxing or squat session with the other mums. I love it, as if he cries or gets agitated then someone’s there to hold him whilst I can still train. I kept telling myself that it takes nine months to grow a baby and so it should take nine months to feel like your old self again afterwards.
I’m starting to feel good about myself again but I know I still want to work harder and really get my post-baby body back to fighting form! I think as an ex-athlete I always compare myself to the body I used to have when I was on top form, and it’s hard to let that go. My body won my Olympic gold medal, but it’s now also grown a baby and given birth; both are amazing achievements and I needed my body to change.
What does a typical week of training look like for you at the moment?
In an ideal week this is what I’d love to do:
Monday: Morning – HIIT class. Afternoon – 30/40 minute jog pushing Oscar
Tuesday: Morning – Boot camp circuits. Afternoon/eve – 30-45 minute Wattbike
Wednesday: Afternoon/eve – Punch & Squat class
Thursday: Jog or Wattbike at some point
Friday: Morning – HIIT Class
Saturday – Jog without Oscar
What are your favourite items of cycling kit for getting out on the bike?
I love the cycling clothing brand Rapha. Their kit is so well made, good quality and looks awesome. My favourite are some bright pink shoe covers and a bright pink jersey to match. It makes me feel happier knowing I can be seen on my bike … while incorporating style! I definitely need to treat myself to some more soon! As for gadgets, I found the use of power pedals really beneficial when training for Tour de Celeb. Unfortunately, we had to hand them and the bike computer back at the end of filming. I will definitely look at purchasing some in the future as you can structure your plan around power and see marked improvements over time.
You’ll be flying out for the Winter Olympics soon. Who have you got your eye on as potential medallists in PyeongChang?
In the Skeleton race, Laura Deas is ranked 7th in the World Rankings and reigning Olympic Champion Lizzy Yarnold is 9th. Lizzy really wants to defend her title, yet Laura has been consistently better and has a faster start then Lizzy – both girls have the skills to get a medal.
Elise Christie, our amazing short track speed skater, could become the first Briton to win multiple medals in the 500m and 1000m events at one Winter Games. However, she will face tough competition from South Korea as their national sport is short track.
James Woods and Izzy Atkin who are both freestyle skiers. Woods and Atkin are predicted to win Team GB’s first medals on skis.
The two curling teams. The men’s and women’s teams won silver and bronze in 2014 and are the only Winter Olympic sports to produce more than one medal at a single Games for GB.
Slalom skier Dave Ryding won Britain’s first World Cup skiing medal for 36 years with his slalom silver in January 2017 at Kitzbuhel, so he could have a great day and bring home a medal.
Andrew Musgrave got Britain’s best-ever Nordic skiing result by finishing fourth in the 50km freestyle at the World Cross Country Skiing Championships in March. [He will race] 1500, 30km at Olympics.
Does prepping for your role as commentator bring back happy memories of your Olympic skeleton gold?
Every Olympic Games that I watch brings back memories. There’s something so special being in the Olympic environment around the best athletes in the world, all trying to win a medal. It’s an honour to be chosen to represent your Country and to have that chance to perform at your best on that world stage.
It was a very emotional moment four years ago in Sochi watching Lizzy Yarnold win the gold and taking my Olympic title. It truly hit me, then, in that moment, that I had won Gold, and I have a medal too!
Being part of the BBC team commentating is a great job. I get to watch my old sport as well as other athletes, and pass on my knowledge and experience to everyone watching. I really can’t wait until the 9th Feb when I join the team at the BBC studios for the opening ceremony. I then fly out to PyeongChang to commentate track-side for the skeleton. I really enjoy soaking up the Olympic atmosphere.
You retired from skeleton six years ago. Do you miss competing?
Yes, I do miss it. I miss being physically very strong and fast. I used to love my summer training at Bath University. I would train two times a day, six days a week, doing heavy gym sessions every day and then either a sprint session, drills, a push session on the skeleton track, or core and stability work. The winter was spent on the road travelling from one country to another racing each week. The feeling of lying on your sled, sliding down a track is something I miss. However, that was a chapter of my life that have closed and I accept it and have moved onto the next stage. I think the athlete in me will never truly go away which is why I love being given the odd challenge or physical test.
How does life differ now you’re no longer a professional athlete?
As an athlete all I did was sleep, eat, train, eat, train, eat and sleep pretty much in that order every day. The food I ate was clean, healthy and high in protein, five meals a day. It was fuel for my body to get strong and recovery from sessions.
I used to do extra stretching and mobility sessions at the start and end of every day, and then go to bed at 9.30pm each night, no matter what day of the week it was. I was very strict with myself all the time and every decision I made pivoted around whether it would help me win gold or not.
Now, it’s totally different. I try to eat healthy the majority of the time but won’t lose any sleep if I don’t. Sometimes it’s a lot more convenient to just whack pizza in the oven at the end of a busy day. Sleep before was precious, as it’s when we recovered as athletes. Now it’s precious as it can be few and far between when Oscar is teething. I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Do you have any sponsors?
No, I don’t anymore. As an athlete, the skeleton team was sponsored by Adidas for our kit. Then, after I had won my Olympic Gold, BMW made me one of their ambassadors so I was supplied with cars for several years. I’ve also been lucky enough to be a local lululemon ambassador for a year where I held events and got a nice clothing allowance.
Photo: James McFarland
What’s on the horizon for you during the rest of 2018?
I’ve just completed the Winter Run 10km series which took place in London on the 4th Feb. I’m the ambassador for it, so I’d been getting my trainers on with Oscar getting fit to join everyone.
Next, I’m an ambassador for the Dream Challenges 100km Ride the Night Event on the 5th May. It starts at Windsor and you cycle through London and back during the night. It’s going to be such an experience.
I’m also training to complete my first every triathlon. It’s always been on my bucket list to complete one so I thought I take the dive this year. I’m doing a local series that consists of four sprint triathlons.
If you fancy joining Amy at the women-only Ride the Night event in May, visit www.dream-challenges.com to sign up.
You can keep up with Amy’s PyeongChang Winter Olympics experience, along with her fitness training, by following her on www.twitter.com/amywilliamsMBE, www.instagram.com/amyjoywilliams and via her website, www.amywilliams.com.