The year ahead: Winter Olympics

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The Independent Online

Winter Olympic medals are rare indeed for Britons, but as the latest, quality-controlled batch of competitors prepare for the Winter Games, which take place in Salt Lake City from 8-24 February, there are high hopes of a relatively good showing in 2002.

Winter Olympic medals are rare indeed for Britons, but as the latest, quality-controlled batch of competitors prepare for the Winter Games, which take place in Salt Lake City from 8-24 February, there are high hopes of a relatively good showing in 2002.

Simon Clegg, the chief executive of the British Olympic Association, has indicated that Britain has six realistic medal shots – in the men's and women's skeleton bobsleigh, the men's and women's curling events, the men's alpine skiing and the women's snowboard competition.

The most obvious contender is Alex Coomber, a 27-year-old RAF Intelligence Officer who has already taken her place in the leading echelon of the world's skeleton competitors this season, having won the World Cup for the last two years.

The only question mark over this outstanding competitor is a back problem she has been nursing for the last couple of months. But her discomfort has not been reflected in her early results.

Elsewhere, Hammy McMillan's curling team, who missed out on Nagano 1998 after being defeated in a controversial national play-off, will bring to bear the experience which enabled them to defeat the Canadians on home soil to win the world title.

British eyes will also be on Alain Baxter, the Scotsman who jumped up the slalom skiing world rankings to finish 11th last season, and has already indicated that he is operating at the same level.

Sadly the skiing events will miss the giant of Nagano, Hermann Maier – the Austrian has not entered the Olympics because of a foot injury sustained in a car accident.

The ice hockey tournament should not be lacking in drama, however, as Canada, who missed out on a medal four years ago, approach the event as favourites under the management of their legendary former player Wayne Gretsky.

Prediction: Britain to double their 1998 medal count of one.

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