As fans of Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards will testify, the Winter Olympics has a habit of producing some unlikely heroes. And now the latest bid for sporting immortality comes from the British women's bridge team.
They arrived at the XIX Olympiad in Salt Lake City, Utah, yesterday to campaign for Olympic recognition of the cerebral card game to feature alongside the more traditional disciplines of ski-jumping and slalom. If successful, the "declarers" and "dummies" – as bridge players are known – will represent Britain's best chance of a medal in future winter Games.
Last night the members of the Great Britain team, recent winners of the European championship, were in training at their hotel after a send-off from the Sports minister, Richard Caborn. Nicola Smith, who was appointed MBE for services to bridge after winning the women's world title twice in the Eighties, said: "He told us that in the 21st century, mind sport is very important. He wants bridge and chess to get together to prepare a case."
Before the improbable scenario dawns of tearful bridge players singing their national anthem on the winners' podium at the 2006 Games in Italy, the sport will have to overcome an arcane International Olympic Committee law. In the 1980s, when the Winter Olympics was being eyed as a dumping ground for sports such as basketball and gymnastics, officials stipulated that they would only allow sports played on snow or ice.
But bridge enthusiasts may have an ace up their sleeves, with 83-year-old Marc Holder. He has been an IOC member since 1963 and having presided over the Swiss Bridge Federation for 47 years comes down emphatically on the side of bridge. Mr Holder, who claims to have devised the snow or ice rule, said: "We can just add a clause saying that sports that don't need any new facilities to be built don't have to be on snow or ice."
A week before the Games open, the Great Britain team will gather for an international tournament staged to convince the IOC that the sport is demeaned by its current "exhibition" status. Its advocates point out that it demands the Olympic virtues of concentration, endurance, coolness under pressure and teamwork. Jose Damiani, president of the World Bridge Federation, said: "We are a serious sport."
Mr Damiani and his colleagues have shown characteristically canny strategic thinking by focusing on the winter Olympics rather than the packed schedule of the summer Games. Mr Damiani said: "Bridge is present in all winter sports resorts. Many skiers play bridge in the afternoon, after skiing and before dinner."Reuse content