THE University of Gloucestershire is celebrating after graduate Lizzy Yarnold won the first gold medal for Team GB at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The 25-year old, who graduated from BSc Geography and Sport and Exercise Sciences, competed in the high-speed women’s skeleton event with an outstanding time of 3:52.89.

Yarnold first received an Elite Scholarship in 2007 for being a multi discipline track and field athlete, but then got involved in the sport by responding to an advert for UK Sport’s Girls4Gold talent identification campaign while at the University of Gloucestershire.

She was one of 1,500 national standard sportswomen who attended the initial testing, of which 120 were selected for skeleton and subsequently whittled down to 10.

Rachel Porter, who was scholarship co-ordinator and helped Yarnold manage her sports scholarship during her at the University of Gloucestershire, recalled: “After she attended the Girls4Gold programme in 2008, Lizzy was eventually matched to skeleton in 2009.

"I remember her coming into my office to tell me and she was so excited. From the very start she was driven and focused on what she wanted to achieve. You need to be a strong and brave character to contemplate throwing yourself down a mile long sheet of ice on a tea tray but Lizzy certainly has nerves of steel.”

It is unsurprising then, that Lizzy Yarnold’s new title as Olympic Gold medallist and UK sporting hero, leads on from her huge success over the last few years. Her achievement in the Skeleton World Championship in Lake Placid and her International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (FIBT) World Cup victory in 2012, confirmed her huge potential in the sport.

Staff and students who supported Lizzy during her time at the University of Gloucestershire have watched and celebrated as her sporting career has taken off.

Porter said: “Lizzy embraced every part of her journey through good and bad, and she is an ambassador for her sport and for the University of Gloucestershire.

"The aim of the scholarship programme is to help athletes to manage their sport alongside their studies, so when Lizzy needed to attend training or competitions her study programme would be adapted and time frames adjusted, and the bursary she received helped with travel expenses, equipment, clothing etc.

"As part of the scholarship she also had support and training from the University in strength and conditioning, sports therapy, media, nutrition, physiology and psychology.

“Watching Lizzy go from strength to strength makes me extremely proud to have known her. Knowing she had qualified for the Olympics was a dream but to see her bring home the first gold medal for Team GB is truly amazing.”