IBSF World Championships 2023: Britain’s Matt Weston ‘considered quitting’ before winning gold

His emotion was understandable; becoming the first British man to win the world skeleton title for 15 years, and doing so by an astounding 1.79 seconds after four runs in the spiritual home of sliding sports is a historic achievement.

There was a deeper meaning to his celebrations though; this was about more than a medal.

Last summer, barely three years since he first raced on ice, he considered quitting skeleton for good after finishing 15th at the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Members of the British skeleton squad, which had previously won at least one medal at the previous five Games, were left “devastated”.

Questions need to be raised over GB’s Olympic skeleton performance
The team’s subsequent reversal in form has been almost as dramatic though, with British athletes attaining 10 top-tier honours this season, including Weston’s world and European titles and three World Cup golds.

“What happened there (at Beijing 2022) hit us all really hard and it took a while to get over,” he tells BBC Sport. “I think what we’re achieving now is certainly helping though.”

In a wide-ranging interview, the 25-year-old revealed how training with the Marines, using tea to calm his nerves and the recruitment of ex-world champion turned coach Martins Dukurs transformed GB’s fortunes.

How a back injury led to new sporting adventure
Although initially inspired by his ‘sports mad’ father Tom, Weston discovered a personal passion for taekwondo from a young age and it rapidly became more than a hobby.

He achieved European, World Cup and national successes in the non-Olympic ITF style of taekwondo before a back injury, at the age of 17, saw him switch his focus to rugby.

“I was at quite a high level (in taekwondo), but it all stopped when I had that stress fracture from basically overworking,” he reveals. “I reached an OK level with rugby, but I was a bit lost.

“I heard about this UK Sport Talent ID programme called ‘Discover Your Gold’ in 2017 and I had no expectations, but I wanted to see what I could still do.”

Weston laughs when it is suggested that rugby and ultimately skeleton were perhaps odd choices given he was targeting “body preservation” at that stage.

“Ha, yes skeleton is so brutal, it’s nothing like as smooth as you see when you watch the Olympics,” he says. “You get so many bruises and have to wear ankle protectors on your shoulders when you start out.”

Weston could have been “drafted” to short track speed skating, rugby sevens, track cycling or rowing, which were all part of the programme, but he was ultimately delighted to find his skills were best suited to skeleton.

“The adrenaline, it’s like no other sport,” he said, with real passion. “The rush of going 130-140 km/h blows everything else out of the water.”

‘Beijing was a massive blow for us’
After coming through training trials with the Royal Marines, designed to test candidates’ physical and mental resilience, Weston was selected to race for the first time in late 2019.

He claimed two second-tier Europa Cup medals from his first three races and arrived at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics off the back of becoming Britain’s first male World Cup gold medallist in 14 years.

“Going into the Games we’d had glimpses of success, but also, if you look at the other races it was almost sugar-coating what was actually going on,” Weston says.

“We had real struggles with equipment and being competitive so that was hanging over us, but if you go there with anything other than a mindset that you could win then you’ve already lost, so we did genuinely believe we could get it right on the day.”

Failing to achieve that was not only “extremely difficult” but a source of embarrassment for the four-strong squad; several of whom then considered ending their time in the sport.

“I think all of us that went to the Games had that (retirement) thought crop into their mind,” Weston says.

“You are almost the face of British Skeleton, the most successful Winter Olympic sport (for Team GB) at recent Games and I was the highest finisher at 15th. There were so many emotions to deal with.”

New signings lead to renewed hope
British Skeleton’s recruitment of recently-retired Latvian Olympic and World medallist Martins Dukurs, as well as his sled builder Mattias Guggenberger, “changed everything”.

“I felt a lot of belief that we could go and achieve again and I wasn’t willing to quit knowing that those guys were coming in,” says Weston. “I saw the potential straightaway.”

The Briton is understandably reluctant to reveal the secrets behind their successes this season, but says equipment improvements Dukurs and Guggenberger oversaw made “a massive difference”.

“There’s also the trust and belief that we have in those guys because of all the success they’ve had before,” he states. “Like they have the knowledge about how to deal with being in the lead at a World Championships, I’d never been through that, but Martins had.

“I can learn from him and that really accelerates my ability to perform under pressure.”

He drew heavily on the Latvian’s experience but there was something quintessentially British about how he kept calm between the two days of competition in St Moritz.

“I won’t lie, I did struggle to sleep but I found having a cup of tea and chatting with people really helped,” he says. “If I’m stressed about a race, I’m going to have that cup of tea.”

‘People are watching us, but we’re cool with that’
Weston has also noticed an attitude shift towards the British men this season as he, fellow World Cup winner Marcus Wyatt and team-mate Craig Thompson, who was fourth at the Worlds, are all now viewed as serious medal contenders.

“There’s been a big change in how we were viewed, especially by big nations in the sport like Germany,” he reveals.

“They are definitely watching us in training and keep an eye a lot more on what we’re doing, which has only increased throughout the season.

“I take that as a positive, if they’re filming me then I’m obviously doing something right.”

The 2026 Winter Olympics in Cortina, Italy, may be three years away but Weston is already mapping out his journey to the Games and is excited about the team’s prospects.

“We’re still in what I would call the ‘teething phase’ and learning how each other works,” he says.

“This is my seventh race with the new coaching staff and new equipment so the fact that we’re achieving (medals) already shows massive potential for the future.

“Our eyes are constantly set on Milan and we all want to keep getting better and better, so I think it’s going to be quite an interesting few years ahead.”

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