Suffolk student's golden sled

AS Britain's only gold medal winner of the Winter Olympics was sliding to victory in the Bob skeleton last month, standing next to the track with her eyes closed and fingers crossed was the Suffolk student who designed the all conquering sled.

Jonathan Schofield

AS Britain's only gold medal winner of the Winter Olympics was sliding to victory in the Bob skeleton last month, standing next to the track with her eyes closed and fingers crossed was the Suffolk student who designed the all conquering sled.

When slider Amy Williams' dream of Olympic glory was achieved in Vancouver one of the first to get a hug from the 27-year-old Olympian was former Bury St Edmunds schoolgirl Rachel Blackburn.

“It was utterly surreal,” said Mrs Blackburn. “I was so nervous on Amy's last run. I was standing next to the track, but I had to close my eyes throughout the whole run. When I saw the time and realised she had won it was one of the most unbelievable moments of my life.”


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Mrs Blackburn, 27, left King Edward VI Grammar School to study ship science at Southampton University almost a decade ago.

Her original plan to design a yacht to sail around the world was put on hold when she jumped ship from boat designing to building the sled - nicknamed Arthur by Miss Williams - which catapulted the athlete to Britain's first Winter Olympics gold in 30 years.

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The design of Miss Williams' sled is a well-guarded secret that only those in Mrs Blackburn's Southampton-based team know. At the end of her last victorious run she was responsible for collecting the sled and ensuring no other team could glean any of its gold-winning secrets.

She said: “It looks like nothing more than a layer of foam on top of two runners. But within that, there is a complex steel structure that is designed for maximum speed while balancing the need for total control. Amy was travelling at a top speed of 143km just inches from the ice and only has a split second to respond.”

Mrs Blackburn was not afraid to put her own design to the test and took to the ice for a test run before the Olympics.

“It was absolutely terrifying. Now that I've done it I can assure you I'll never be doing it again,” she added.

Mrs Blackburn joined British Skeleton as a research engineer in 2006 and will finish her PhD at Southampton University in September.

He mother Patricia Larman, of Albert Crescent, Bury, described her daughter as “our bright little star”.

She said: “It was her long-held ambition to build a boat and sail around the world, but instead she built a sled, and it turned out to be an extremely good one.”

Geoff Barton, headteacher at King Edward's school, said he was delighted a former student had played such a special part in Britain's Olympic team.

He said: “Rachel was a great student who showed a real aptitude for sailing and we are thrilled to see that she took that knowledge and applied it to such great effect.”

Amy Williams was given a homecoming parade in her home town of Bath on Wednesday to celebrate her victory.

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