Natasha McKay quickly acclimatised to the unique pressure of Olympic competition as she prepares to make her Games debut.
McKay’s practice sessions have been attended by scores of international media, as cameras followed the every move of Russia’s Kamila Valieva, 15, who arrived here favorite for the women’s figure skating gold.
Valieva’s participation now rests in the hands of the Court of Arbitration in Sport, who will rule on Monday whether she can compete, after testing positive for a banned substance last year.
“I’m focused on what I’m doing but there’s definitely a lot of attention,” said the Dundee star.
In contrast to Valieva, the 27-year old Scot is flying under the radar as she becomes the first woman to compete for Team GB since Jenna McCorkell eight years ago in Sochi.
The five-time national champion finished 16 places behind Valieva at the recent European Championships but is determined to seize her chance.
She made her Team GB 11 years ago as a junior at the Olympic Winter Youth Festival in the Czech Republic but admits the wait to make the transition to the senior team has taken its toll. She missed out on PyeongChang four years ago and almost quit the sport when the pandemic forced her off the ice.
“Before PyeongChang I’d had a bit of a breakthrough season, but to get to the 2018 Games would have been a big ask for me,” said McKay.
“My focus was purely on 2022 and I really wanted to get to these Games. We then obviously had the setback with the pandemic.
“I was off the ice for five months, which for me was a really long time. I’m usually off the ice only for two weeks of the year, so to be off for five months was crazy and just really hard to take, especially because it was six months before the Olympic qualifiers.
“That time was really hard. I just put everything into my off-ice training and just kept everything going and just didn’t stop, because if I stopped then I knew that it would for me.”
McKay has already been in Beijing for ten days but has been trying to use the time to acclimatise.
It’s the same size rink as back home, the same music she knows so well but skaters talk almost reverentially about the prestige of ‘Olympic Ice’.
McKay moved from her home in Dundee to Bradford in order to get time on the ice, only returning home when the Scottish government revised their lockdown rules.
And then additional rules severely limited her ice time – which she feared would ultimately cost her qualification.
“I’m just itching to get on the ice and compete now,” she added.
“It means everything to me. I’ve worked my whole career to get to this point. I’m finally here and accomplishing what I’ve always wanted to do with my life and living out my dreams.”
McKay’s debut will also be special for coaches Debi and Simon Briggs. Based on Ice Dundee, McKay becomes their third Olympic skater, after McCorkell and Matt Parr, who both competed at the 2014 Games.
“The people who have really shaped me to get to this point are definitely my coaches,” added McKay.
“They’ve put 100% into me and I’m so grateful for them. At one point in my career I almost quit. It was when I went to them and I said ‘I want to quit’ and they said ‘don’ don’t be silly, don’t quit now’.
“If I didn’t go to them and they didn’t say that, then I wouldn’t be here. I owe everything to my coaches and I have such a close relationship with them.”
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