Horse Rider to Olympic Skeleton Racer

Winter Olympic bronze medallist Laura Deas began her sporting journey dreaming of riding horses, but it was a dramatic shift to skeleton that saw her find success.

Having begun riding at the age of three with her pony, Spritely, gifted for her birthday, the idea of Laura entering the world of winter sports would have seemed absurd. So, when the one-time Equestrian hopeful from Wrexham announced her intention to take up skeleton racing, it was unsurprisingly met with equal amounts of shock and scepticism.

The roll of the dice paid off for Laura, and then some, winning bronze at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, as well as a silver medal at the 2023 World Championships.

Not Going to University

From having never heard of the sport, never mind trying it, Laura went from complete novice to winning an Olympic bronze medal in the space of nine years. Having just missed out on a place at her preferred university, Laura admits that she felt that she was at a crossroads in her life and the prospect of taking up something new came at the right time for her.

“It was just the right place at the right time,” Laura told Fen Regis Trophies. “Maybe a little bit of fate was involved. I was at a point in my life where, though, academically I got good grades at school, I wasn’t 100% sure that university was the right route for me.

“That was partly because I was contemplating the idea of making it as a professional in the equestrian world, so I was leaning towards that because it felt like a great opportunity.

“It felt like quite a brave thing to do at the time, not to go to university, because it was very much the done thing. That was the expectation on me.

“To say I’m not going to do that and go and explore something else was a little bit unusual at that time.”


Laura was recommended to take up the sport following her participation in UK Sport’s ‘Girls4Gold’ talent identification programme in 2009, which assessed young female athletes’ attributes and, through the use of sports science, identified opportunities within sport where they would have the best opportunity for success.

“I came to learn about the UK Sport talent ID project which eventually got me into sliding,” said Laura. “I was receptive to the opportunity at that time, doing something a little bit outside of the box.

“UK Sport said they think I might have what it takes to win an Olympic medal one day in this sport; I was hooked!”

Laura added: “It was an interesting time in sport in general because the concept of talent ID and talent transfer of athletes from one sport to another was a new thing.

“What they (UK Sport) were trying to do was to use a team of sports scientists to pair people with a sport which they felt they had the raw attributes to be world-class in.

“There were a lot of different things that went into that, such as your sporting background and history, as well as your anthropometrics.

“So, when I went and did the testing, they were very interested in my proportions, things like my leg length relative to my height, arm span…that sort of thing, and also your physical attributes.

“We were put through a range of different tests like cycling, vertical jumps, and sprinting.

“They were capturing a lot of data, and they went away and crunched all the numbers, relative to what they believed were the most important attributes in different sports and matched people against them.”

Introduction to Skeleton

The University of Bath is home to British Bobsleigh and Skeleton and is where many of Britain’s Winter Olympians train. Having never heard of the sport beforehand, it is fair to say that Laura was caught off guard by UK Sport’s recommendation.

“I was very surprised to get a phone call a couple of weeks after going to the test event and to be asked to come down to the University of Bath and try pushing a sledge!

“I had never heard of the sport of skeleton,” Laura admitted. “They kindly provided a DVD of some footage of Olympic athletes doing the sport so that we had a bit of an idea of what we were letting ourselves in for.

“It was a big surprise because what had drawn me into doing the trials in the first place was the idea of potentially making it into the modern pentathlon.

“It was a bit of a U-turn from my expectation, but as soon as I realised what the sport was, the fact it was a winter sport, it was adrenaline, it was exciting but dangerous…that ticked a lot of boxes for me.”

Olympic Success

In 2018, nine years after taking up the sport, Laura secured a bronze medal at the Winter Olympics held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, sharing the podium with Team GB teammate Lizzy Yarnold, who won gold. For Laura, who had achieved success before those Games having won races in Europe and World Cups, it was vindication of her chosen path.

“According to the world,” Laura said. “It (winning an Olympic medal) was unexpected. I think it was myself, and maybe one or two coaches and teammates, who were the only people who truly believed that it was possible.

“I was very much the underdog at the time as well in the British programme because my friend, Lizzie [Yarnold], was coming off the back of being defending Olympic champion in the previous Olympics, which I hadn’t been selected for.

“All of the pressure, the expectation, and the eyes of the world were very much on her. I made a conscious decision that there was nothing I could do about that.

“I just tried to use it to my advantage and to keep my head down and focus on the things I can influence.”

Laura continued: “A key piece of the puzzle was a talk with my coach (Danny Holdcroft) that I will never forget…I hung onto the words he said to me.

“You don’t have to be the best in a four-heat race, which is what the Olympic Games.

“He said that someone will always crumble under the pressure of four heats because it’s very, very difficult to be consistent…if you can just be that person that’s consistently good, that could win you a medal.”

Having gone into the final heat in fourth place, Laura catapulted herself into third to take home the bronze medal. Unfortunately, the 2022 Winter Olympics was not to be one to remember as Team GB failed to medal in the event, though Laura came back to win silver at the 2023 World Championships.

Now, Laura will not be taking to the ice for the foreseeable future as she announced in late 2023 that she is expecting her first baby, but has not ruled out returning in the coming years.

By Aaron Gratton

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