Winter Youth Olympics: Woodward leads Team GB in Innsbruck

While hundreds of hours over of the next six months will be spent agonising over which athletes should be selected for Team GB at the London Games, Great Britain's first Olympians of 2012 have already been named.

A team of 24 athletes flew out to Austria earlier this week ready to compete at the inaugural Winter Youth Olympics in Innsbruck over the next 10 days.

The Games, announced by IOC president Jacques Rogge in 2007, are seen as a way of introducing Olympic values ('Olympism') and elite levels of sporting competition to athletes from a young age.

The winter sports event follows the success of the first summer Youth Games in Singapore, where GB athletes won nine medals, including a taekwondo gold for Jade Jones in 2010.

For Sir Clive Woodward, who led England to Rugby World Cup glory in 2003, serving as Team GB chef de mission in Austria will give him experience of leading a multi-event squad ahead of his role as Great Britain's director of sport in London.

"It's a huge privilege to be in charge of the team at the Winter Youth Olympic Games and I think hats off to the IOC for taking the Olympics down to this age group," Woodward told BBC Sport.

"This is a big step forward, having this experience will be fantastic for the athletes.

"I think they're an outstanding group and I'm hoping what we can learn is that at this level we are right up there with other nations in terms of the sports."

He insists there are no set podium targets for the team and that the focus should be on benefiting from the experience of competing in the Olympic environment.

However, for GB Bobsleigh - who need to raise around £60,000 every year just to break even - medals do generally mean money.

"Bobsleigh is very expensive," said performance director Gary Anderson.

"Every bobsleigh costs £20k, then there's moving around, getting to competitions and staying in accommodation - it all costs a lot of money."

Anderson added: "We are fortunate to have the support we do, because without that we would not be at the starting line, but all sponsors want to be associated with people who win."

The six-strong bobsleigh squad, who are split into three pairs, are among Great Britain's best medal prospects having finished on the podium in each Youth Olympic qualification event.

"You can only get in a bobsleigh at 16 and I'm 17 now, so it doesn't give you much time to prepare," said Jazmin Sawyers.

"But we are all in the same situation and I think, within the short amount of time we've had, we've gained a lot of experience and hopefully we'll get some medals."

Other strong contenders include freestyle skier Katie Summerhayes, ice hockey skill specialist Katherine Gale, who finished top of the Youth Games qualification rankings, and Great Britain's curlers.

Traditionally, the GB curling team has consisted entirely of Scottish athletes, with Scotland and Canada considered the world's elite nations, but for the first time ever at a major international event a non-Scot - England's Angharad Ward, has been named in the Great Britain team.

"It is a big moment," reflected GB Curling team leader Brad Askew, who was clear about the ambitions of his squad.

"They have all been through a really rigorous selection process with skill, psychological and mindset testing and I would put these four up against anyone in the world."

Askew, who saw the Scottish juniors become world champions in 2011 added: "We have our eye on gold."

The squad range from 14 to 18 years old and although there are only two years until the next Winter Olympic Games in Socchi, Russia, impressive performances will give the athletes every possibility of making the senior team in 2014.

Winter Youth Olympic Games

Venue:
Innsbruck, Austria
Date:
13-22 January
Events:
Alpine Skiing (14-21 Jan), Biathlon (15-21 Jan), Bobsleigh (22 Jan), Cross Country (17-21), Curling (14-22), Figure skating (14-21), Freestyle Skiing (14-20), Ice Hockey (16-19), Short Track (18-21), Snowboarding (14-19)
Coverage:
Daily 60min highlights programme on BBC Red Button, 1900 GMT; reports & video on BBC Sport website; British Olympic Dreams special on 28 January, 1300 GMT, BBC One.

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