GB confident of historic snowsport Winter Olympic medal in Sochi

By Nick HopeBBC Olympic sports reporter
Meet GB slopestyle skier James Woods

Great Britain's freestyle ski and snowboard team are boldly predicting they could win up to three medals at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

And when you consider GB has never won an Olympic medal on the snow it is an astonishing claim.

But head coach Pat Sharples is confident recent results in slopestyle, an event making its Games debut in Russia, suggests they can make history.

"The goal is not just to get there, we want to go and win," said Sharples.

"It is ambitious [two-three medals], but I think that the way the guys are performing, it's not impossible."

Sharples' confidence is backed up by the performances of James Woods and Billy Morgan. Woods, a 20-year-old slopestyle skier, won a World Cup event in September, the first British man to do so, while snowboarder Morgan was victorious at the London Freeze big air event last weekend.

Throw into the mix snowboarder Jenny Jones, who has three slopestyle X Games golds to her name, and snowboard cross rider Zoe Gillings, who has had seven World Cup podiums, including a win, and you can understand where Sharples is coming from.

It is a stark contrast to 2010 when, after disappointing performances at the Vancouver Olympics, UK Sport removed funding for all skiing and snowboarding athletes.

However after decent results in world-class events, it has agreed to provide £584,300 worth of support for freestyle skiing and snowboarding through to March 2013.

Although grateful for the financial assistance, skiing and snowboarding is still the poorest fundedexternal-link of all the British Summer and Winter Olympic sports, and alpine skiing receives no help at all.

The freestyle athletes have been able to excel due to the volume of low-cost training which can take place away from the snow and back in the UK.

"We don't always have to be on the slope and a lot of the guys have come through learning on dry slopes and indoor centres," Sharples told BBC Sport.

"They have become so good on the rails and boxes because in these artificial centres they're playing around on them and learning new tricks constantly.

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"That's 50% of the marks that the judges are looking for, said Sharples. "We also use sports like trampolining, gymnastics, skateboarding, BMX and even freestyle moto-cross which can all help with what we do."

Woods added: "I skied for four years without getting on the snow, I loved it and it was what I needed."

"In Britain we're deprived of the mountains and the skiing mentality, it's not a way of life and it's very much considered what you do when you're loaded.

"I've had jobs back in Sheffield and some of the guys even now are working all through the summer so they can get a month away and strive for the Olympics.

"Everyone on our team, we've done our fair share of sleeping on floors and and not eating so much so we can afford the lift pass," said Woods. "I'm not telling a sob story - it's fantastic because it shows the passion and how much we all want it."

The closest Great Britain has come to winning an Olympic medal on the snow was when Alain Baxter finished third at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.

However, he was controversially stripped of bronze after testing positive for banned substance methamphetamine, which was later found to have been caused by an over-the-counter American version of a nasal inhaler.

Sharples said the money the freestyle squad has received can be a huge boost for winter sports.

"We can set up a proper programme with coaches, assistant coaches and physios on the trips that we attend - which is really important," he said.

"We've also got great strength and conditioning programmes and all of this helps make the ultimate athlete who will achieve their full potential."

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