Winter Olympics: Team GB in 'good shape' a year on from Sochi

Jenny Jones, David Murdoch and Lizzy Yarnold
Skiier Jenny Jones, Team GB curling skip David Murdoch and skeleton star Lizzy Yarnold won medals in Sochi

Saturday marks one year since the 22nd Olympic Winter Games got under way in the Russian resort of Sochi.

Over the 17 days that followed, Great Britain's team enjoyed its most successful Winter Games since the very first edition in Chamonix in 1924.

GB athletes brought home four medals - skeleton gold for Lizzy Yarnold,silver and bronze in curling and a snowboard bronze for Jenny Jones - Britain's first Olympic medal on snow.

Twelve months on, how are winter sports faring in the United Kingdom?

Chef de mission's view

Mike Hay, a former Great Britain curler, was in overall charge of the Team GB delegation in Russia.

He believes the performance in Sochi was a "step change" and stands Winter Sports in good stead in the lead up to the next Games in Pyeongchang in 2018.

Mike Hay and Team GB skip Eve Muirhead
Mike Hay (right) worked closely with Team GB skip Eve Muirhead in Sochi

"I think we're in pretty good shape. I think that's reflected in the funding. UK Sport have confidence we have podium potential in Pyeongchang," said Hay.

"We have a great age profile of athletes coming through, and we've got much more strength in depth than we've ever had before, so I'm very positive about our chances in Pyeongchang."

Funding

UK Sport funding in Winter Olympic Sports has more than doubled for the four-year cycle running up to Pyeongchang.

For the six funded sports the amount awarded has risen from pre-Sochi total of £13,444,638 to £27,374,333.

"I think we can safely say Sochi was a watershed moment for British winter sports," said Simon Timson, UK Sport director of performance.

"Many are still working with a relatively small cohort of athletes, but ones that have the potential to be even more successful in Pyeongchang in three years' time.

UK Sport funding
SportSochi fundingPyeongchang funding
*subject to review at the end of year one
Bobsleigh£3,304,250£4,494,400 (£1,104,200*)
Curling£2,055,100£5,389,450
Figure Skating£174,338£1,669,940 (£385,920*)
Short Track Speed Skating£2,953,400£4,350,600 (£753,800*)
Skeleton£3,447, 600£6,549,617
Ski and Snowboard£1,509,950£4,890,326
TOTAL£13,444,638£27,374,333

"However, no one in British winter sport can afford to rest on their laurels and sit still; we need to make the most of the opportunity that Sochi created.

"We don't expect to see all the fruits in performance terms on the world stage yet."

In skeleton, the extra funding has enabled Team GB to run a talent search programme in order to bring its number of athletes up from 15 to 24 by 2018.

More money is going to sled research and development, while the extra funds have helped send athletes to the Olympic Youth Games and led to the appointment of full-time coaches for the World Cup and Europa Cup.

However, three sports - bobsleigh, short-track speed skating and figure skating - have conditions to meet in year one or they could face cuts to their money.

Claire Hamilton, Vicki Adams, Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, and Lauren Gray of Great Britain celebrate during the medal ceremony for Women's Curling
Britain has won four curling medals at Winter Olympics

National Ice Skating Association chief executive Nick Sellwood said the conditions imposed were "only right and proper".

"You've got to keep assessing whether people are on track to deliver medals," he added.

"Our figure skaters have very specific performance targets at the world championships. If they reach those targets, they remain on the programme. If they don't, they'll move off the programme.

"In short-track, UK Sport recognise that we are excelling - we're delivering world, European and world cup medals regularly. But what we haven't done is convert that to Olympic medals.

"We've reviewed all of our programmes and put new strategies and resources in place to address some of the weaknesses in our system so that we're more confident of delivering the medals we're being asked to do."

Athlete performance

Many GB athletes who took part in Sochi have built on the team's success in the past year.

Lizzy Yarnold has added to her Olympic gold with three World Cup wins so far this season.

The GB women curlers followed up their bronze with European bronze representing Scotland, although the GB men who won silver in Russia failed to qualify for the event.

There have also been successes for athletes who did not manage to get on the podium in Sochi.

Katie Summerhayes became the first British woman to win a Freestyle World Championships medal when she took slopestyle silver in Kreischberg in January.

Elise Christie
Elise Christie was crowned European Short Track Speed Skating champion in Dordecht last month

In short track, Elise Christie, for whom the Winter Olympics went so badly, refocused to take a world silver medal and was crowned European champion for the first time.

Andrew Musgrave, the cross-country skier who described his Olympic performance as like a 'tranquilised badger', has rediscovered his speed with the best ever finish by a Briton at a World Cup, coming 13th in Lillehammer in December. He also clocked the fastest time by a Brit in a World Cup race earlier this year.

And although they were unable to win another European Championships medal this year, ice dancing pair Penny Coomes and Nick Buckland scored a personal best and won their first prestigious Grand Prix medal with a bronze in Moscow in November.

The snow sports expert

Ed Leigh is a former professional snowboarder and now co-presents Ski Sunday. He feels snow sports in the UK are enjoying a post-Sochi boost.

"Snow sports in this country are in such rude health," he said. "Jenny Jones's medal has had such an affect on the domestic industry.

"That medal had a genuine trickle-down effect of bringing people into the sport.

"We are the only snowboard industry in the world that is growing at the moment."

Katie Summerhayes
Katie Summerhayes won silver in the ski slopestyle final at last month's World Championships

Leigh added that Summerhayes's silver medal at the world championships is "an indication of the progress that we continue to make".

Another one of the key things that Sochi has provided is something called 'performance profiling', which looks at the times and performances of the world's best and measures UK athletes against that.

"Snowboard riders like Billy Morgan, Jamie Nicholls and Aimee Fuller are all benefiting from that and we're starting to see real results and a lot of progress being made using that system," Leigh added.

Participation levels

Participation can be tricky to gauge.

Some sports, such as bobsleigh or skeleton, are not readily accessible to a recreational athlete. Other sports have different ways of measuring their numbers - whether it is by website traffic or facility surveys.

However, the general trend is upwards.

Curling recorded over 5,000 people trying the sport in the aftermath of the Sochi Games through the Try Curling website. That number compares to roughly 1,000 people in each year after the 2010 Vancouver Games.

Lizzy Yarnold
Lizzy Yarnold's skeleton gold medal in Sochi followed Amy Williams's victory in Vancouver in 2010

And at the only dedicated curling rink in England they are still witnessing 60% more visitors than they were at this time 12 months ago.

"Immediately after the Games we had so much interest we had to stay open longer than we normally would," said Tracey Brown, manager of Fenton's Rink in Tunbridge Wells.

"We shut between May and October and expected it to level out again but there were still more people coming. We don't know when or if interest will drop."

Ice skating sports have recorded 2,500 more people taking part each week, while in the three months after Sochi Snowsport England recorded a 12% increase in participation at several indoor centres around the country compared to the same period in 2013.

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