Winter Olympics: Success demanded after £28m investment

Scottish cross-country skier Andrew Musgrave believes he has a strong chance of bringing a medal home from PyeongChang. Picture: Getty.
Scottish cross-country skier Andrew Musgrave believes he has a strong chance of bringing a medal home from PyeongChang. Picture: Getty.
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Welcome to the coldest 
Winter Olympics in history, where a man who learned to ski last year marches in bare-chested and a team from the tropical island of Bermuda arrive in their shorts.

You see a lot of sights at these Games but yesterday’s opening ceremony will take some beating. It was meant to be about athletes from South and North Korea marching together, united in sporting goals while their nations remain so bitterly divided.

But, in truth, it will all be about cross-country skier Pita Taufatofua – oiled-up and shirtless – reprising his act from two years ago in Rio, when he first represented his country in taekwondo.

It is 30 years since the 
Calgary Olympics, a Games forever remembered for two similarly improbable stories that will survive the telling as much as any gold, silver or bronze.

Jamaica’s bobsleigh team and a British ski jumper from Cheltenham inspired and 
continue to inspire millions.

Eddie The Eagle was the British story of those Games, indeed Team GB returned with no medals and just one top-ten finish, an eighth place in the men’s downhill.

Fast forward three decades and Britain’s athletes travel in expectation, not hope, with the public at home demanding success.

Reality demands and prudence dictates that gold, silvers and bronze will always be measured in pounds, shillings and pence. UK Sport has invested over £28 million in the 59-strong British team and it wants a return measured with visits to the podium, anything between five and ten medals keeping the money men happy.

There’s an argument that sport shouldn’t be like this and that Eddie and those Cool Runnings guys inspired just as many Olympic dreams with 
a last-place finish and not a penny of finance.

The variables of winter sport make predictions a dangerous business. Katie Ormerod could well have delivered two medals as one of the top snowboarders in the world. Instead she is recovering in hospital from the training accident that ruled her out this week.

But there are still other medal contenders. Freestyle skiers Izzy Atkin, Katie Summerhayes and James Woods, all podium regulars at world level, have every opportunity to join Jenny Jones, the only Brit to win a medal on snow.

Snowboarder Billy Morgan starts his campaign in the early hours of this morning, while Elise Christie – who goes for gold in three events – will be in action in 
her 500m qualifying races later.

She is not the only Scot who fancies their medal chances. Both the men’s and women’s curling rinks found form at the recent European Championships while cross-country skier Andrew Musgrave believes he has every chance too.

Which brings us to the national sport of sliding quickly down an icy chute – something Brits are strangely good at.

Lizzy Yarnold is talking confidently about becoming the first British athlete to defend a Winter Olympic title, even if recent results suggest differently. Team-mate Laura Deas may have a better chance in the women’s skeleton, where Britain will look to podium for the fifth straight Games.

Britain won four medals in Sochi, equalling their best-ever return from the 1924 Games in Chamonix, where the Winter Olympics bore no relation to the event we see today.

That means only a new record will be good enough, rightly daunting British Olympic Association chairman Sir Hugh Robertson, who worries the nation has become 
accustomed to Olympic 

“At some stage we won’t do better than the last Games, we all accept that,” he said.

“I think we have an obsession with a particular number of medals. If there are moments that set the Games alight, like our women’s hockey team did in Rio, then we should cherish that too.”

Winter sports are fickle; the margins between a winning run and a face in the snow are fractional.

UK Sport chair Dame Katherine Grainger won three Olympic silvers before she won her rowing gold at London 2012. She knows about the triumph and the struggle and has backed unlucky Ormerod to rebound.

“Only in time will it sink in what she’s missed out on here,” said Grainger, pictured.

“She’s much younger than me and has had more injuries already than I had in my entire career.

“If you handle these things right it can make you a better athlete, it becomes part of your character and you can be better for it. I know she will get past this and come back more enthused in four years’ time.

“She has always come back stronger from these setbacks in the past and I’m sure she will again.”

l Scottish medal hope Elise Christie is in action at 11am on Eurosport 1 today. Don’t miss a moment of the Olympic Winter
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