Tomorrow the Fitness Festival returns to Castle Field. The event aims to inspire and celebrate active and healthy lifestyles. I have been fortunate to be given some time with one of the event’s special guests, British Skeleton Association athlete and Beijing Winter Olympic hopeful, Kimberley Murray.
Could you describe Skeleton for those who might not be familiar with the sport?
It’s a winter sport, best described as sliding headfirst on a small sled down (with no brakes) a huge icy water slide. You push the sled at the start before jumping on and negotiating up to 19 corners, aiming to cross the finish line quicker than anyone else. You hit speeds of up to 90 mph with your chin inches from the ice, and it’s super scary and super fun for the minute or so it takes to cover about a mile of track!
The skeleton sled often exceeds speeds of 70mph, was it quite daunting at first? Did it take you long to get used to it or have you always been a bit of a natural thrill seeker?
It was SO scary to begin with! I like to be in control and to begin with, skeleton was the complete opposite because I didn’t know what I was doing! It took s a lot of perseverance to improve to where I am now. I definitely wouldn’t call myself a thrill seeker but I do now love the feeling when you’re on a really good run and going super fast. It is pretty special, and I think everybody should know what that feels like!
You grew up on the Isle of Wight, a place that isn’t known for its winter sports. Could you tell me about how you first got involved in the Skeleton?
Growing up on the Isle of Wight I was heavily involved in athletics, I trained at and competed for the IoW athletics club, competing in the long jump and sprints. I continued training for long jump when I left the island and went to the University of Bath and then onto Loughborough University. I first knew of skeleton when I was a student at Bath; Amy Williams had just won gold at the Vancouver Games and I remember staying up late to watch because I’d seen her around the Uni.
I trialled for skeleton shortly after, as part of the Girls4Gold talent ID search, but I didn’t get further than phase two. Much later, in 2014 after Lizzy Yarnold had won gold in the Sochi Winter Olympics I saw that British Skeleton and UK Sport were doing another search; Power2Podium, so I applied again, aged 25. This time I was much more successful and was selected onto the Talent squad in 2015. If I am honest, it wasn’t the sport that appealed to me; but the opportunity to push myself farther than I ever had by starting a new sport, and the opportunity to go to an Olympics which was my dream.
I first knew of skeleton when I was a student at Bath; Amy Williams had just won gold at the Vancouver Games and I remember staying up late to watch because I’d seen her around the Uni.
Bath University is the home of the Skeleton for the Great Britain team. With spending so much time together, does the team become a second family?
Absolutely! Over the summer we do get some time apart but during the winter months when we’re away training and racing all over the world you train, eat, sleep and live with one another. It is great to have people around you going through the same sort of experiences too. It makes you closer, we have very few secrets from one another!
Seeing Lizzy and Laura do so well in Pyeong Chang must have made you so proud? Despite being on the same team how you approach competing with close friends and teammates during training and in competition?
Don’t forget the boys, Dom Parsons and Jerry Rice! I was extremely proud to see them do so incredibly well and to be part of the team. You couldn’t really ask for better role models with regards to getting it right when it matters. Everyone performed out of their skin! A real strength of our programme is how we work together as a team; even though you’ll be racing them at the end of the week. We don’t have our own track in the UK to train on so we have to be fast learners. Working together as a team to understand and try different things down the run helps with this massively.
I definitely wouldn’t call myself a thrill seeker but I do now love the feeling when you’re on a really good run and going super fast. It is pretty special.
We travel to some of the most beautiful places to train and race; I’m obsessed with a good mountain view. St. Moritz is probably my favourite as it’s a stunning place with so much history and reputation. The track is also completely natural, built every Christmas from snow and ice whereas all the other tracks are big concrete structures.
I’m fascinated to know how you steer the skeleton sled?
It’s simple! Head, shoulders, knees and toes! Seriously, you use your head for gentle, subtle steers. For the majority of steers you use (opposite) knees and shoulders together; changing the intensity you push into the sled beneath you depending on the need of the corner. Foot steers are discouraged because it creates a lot of breaking force but sometimes they’re needed if you need a very hard or emergency steer.
You must end up with plenty of bumps, scrapes and bruises?
Unfortunately yes. I am a bit of a catastrophe too; so I have probably had more than my fair share. This year I celebrated not getting concussed as I had the previous two years, something I was really happy about! As you get better you hit walls less and less, however, there are certain tracks that will always challenge you and beat you up more than others. Arnica gel, ibuprofen and bags for ice are essential skeleton first aid kit!
You’ve made no secret of your dream to represent the British team in Beijing 2022. Despite being so far away has the preparation already begun?
It began the day I got selected in 2015. Even when I was long-listed for selected for PyeongChang that would have served as preparation. I am always striving to improve on lots of aspects and it’s all focussed on putting myself into contention for selection in 2022 and then getting on the podium.
You’ve previously been fortunate enough to compete in Altenberg, St Moritz, Lillehammer and Konigssee. These are some of the most beautiful locations in Europe. Out of all of the places that Skeleton has taken you, do you have a favourite?
We travel to some of the most beautiful places to train and race; I’m obsessed with a good mountain view. St. Moritz is probably my favourite as it’s a stunning place with so much history and reputation. The track is also completely natural, built every Christmas from snow and ice whereas all the other tracks are big concrete structures. It is really special and unique, sliding there is an absolute joy. Lillehammer will always be up there too, it was once a huge personal challenge just to get down that track and now it is probably one of my strongest. So it represents the growth and development I have shown since starting the sport.
Königsee, Berchtesgaden, Germany
La Plagne, France.
With all the training, competing and travelling, do you get to return to the south coast very much?
Not as much as I’d like, especially over the winter time. I miss the beaches on the IOW so much on hot days in Bath! A park just isn’t the same. However, I am home a lot more compared to when I was living in Scotland so I can’t complain.
You’ve said on your BBSA bio that you are a fan of Years and Years. Are we likely to see you back on Southsea Common for their performance at Victorious Festival this summer?
Festivals are one of my favourite events to attend, however they don’t make training too fun the following week. I have to be careful about how I spend my free time as it doesn’t take much to tip over the edge and pick up an injury which every athlete hates. I used to go to Bestival and Isle of Wight Festival every year; I love the liberation you feel in the crowds, with everyone united in appreciation for the music. Unfortunately I have no festival plans this year; although now you mention Victorious I am going to go check out the dates!
Good luck Kim, we’ll be closely following your journey to China!
If you would like to know more about Kimberley, the Skeleton, Winter Olympics, her training regime or whatever you’d like to ask her then you can catch Kim at the Fitness Festival in the afternoon. Find out more over on their website and social media pages which are linked below.