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Can Britain capitalise on Team GB’s Winter Olympic success?

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Following the conclusion of the most successful Winter Olympics for Great Britain since 1924, Scott Johnson looks back at events in Sochi as well as forward to a potentially bright future in winter sports for Team GB.

The 2014 Sochi games may have been a record-equalling Winter Olympics for Team GB, who claimed four medals in total with one gold, one silver and two bronze – but was it a flash in the pan or will it come to be remembered as the start of better performances by Team GB on the snow and ice?

Out of the four medals the Brits picked up, three were, while hardly expected, not surprising. The Bronze medal-winning Women’s curling team, led by Eve Muirhead, was victorious in the World Championships last year; thus their success can hardly be considered a surprise, the all-Scottish quartet in with a good chance of winning a medal in four years’ time.

Eve Muirhead and her curling team celebrate their bronze medal. Photo: msn.com
Eve Muirhead and her curling team celebrate their bronze medal. Photo: msn.com

David Murdoch meanwhile led the men’s curling team to a silver medal, his team considered medal contenders prior to the competition – the consistency of their performances brings hope for a continued good performance in this discipline.

Meanwhile, Lizzy Yarnold absolutely destroyed the competition in the skeleton, beating her closest competitor by just under a second – a  huge margin in the context of the sport. The 25-year-old has already stated her ambition of defending her title in 2018, which is positive news for Team GB in making sure this games’ success aren’t allowed to go to waste.

The only British medallist whose success could be considered a surprise was slopestyle bronze medallist Jenny Jones, who claimed team GB’s first ever medal on snow. But, at 33 years of age, Jones is unlikely to defend her medal in the next Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

But, were these four the only medal hopes Team GB had? Undoubtedly, one or two others slipped through the nation’s fingers, speed skater Elise Christie a case in point after suffering triple heartbreak following disqualification in all three of her events.

Being near the top of the world rankings for the past two years, Christie believed she could finish in the top three in one of her events, and came agonisingly close to doing so in the 500m final – finishing second only to be penalised for an early crash.

James ‘Woodsy’ Woods was a pre-games medal contender in the ski slopestyle, but after injuring his hip in the warm-ups he finished a very respectable fifth. Team GB’s four-man bobsleigh first team, led by John James Jackson, narrowly missed out on a bronze medal, finishing fifth and ultimately missing out on a top-three placing by around a tenth of a second.

Britain did exceptionally well in this event, beating the German four-man sled for the first time in nearly 30 years in a time that was expected to be good enough for a medal. However, this a problem for Team GB as a smaller Winter Olympic nation – we seem to be in a perpetual state of catch-up.

Despite these near misses, it has to be said that Team GB achieved all of its targets in all the sports in which they competed, which, pre-games, were said by some to be too ambitious. Whilst some of these targets were admittedly modest – for example, finishing in the top ten – Britain simply cannot afford to invest as much in each winter sport as other countries.

Lizzy Yarnold emulated Vancouver champion Amy Williams in the women's skeleton event. Photo: stroudnewsandjournal.co.uk
Lizzy Yarnold emulated Vancouver champion Amy Williams in the women’s skeleton event. Photo: stroudnewsandjournal.co.uk

It’s also worth bearing in mind that Britain lack a culture of winter sports because of the need to travel abroad to be able to experience the bulk of the sports included in the games. Therefore these have to be considered ambitious targets, and we achieved them all. Indeed, a haul of four medals in the winter for a country that by and large dreads snowy conditions is nothing short of astounding.

The fact is that the evidence shows that this may be the beginning of something to look forward to in future Winter Olympic Games. Having regular contenders in the majority of the sports on the bill is something to be applauded, and, as with every sporting event, there will always be wildcards that seem to come out of nowhere.

Improving the grass-roots culture of Winter Olympic sports has to be the next target. I for one would have loved to try my hand at curling, but the nearest dedicated curling rink is some 200 miles away in Tunbridge Wells. Making a sport that was as popular on television during the Sochi games as curling accessible to the masses is a necessity if our recent success is to endure.

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