my own goal

Graham Bell is one of two British representatives on the World Cup ski circuit. Most weekends during the winter he flies the flag, usually aspiring to a top 15 position. Sometimes, however, as he relates in this cautionary tale, he merely hopes to arrive
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The Independent Online
SKIING is the sort of sport where you score an own goal in virtually every match you play. One fraction out of line at any turn and you have lost a fraction of a second,which can make the difference between a place in the top 15 and and one in the top 50.

The important thing is to forget all the mistakes and get on with skiing. You would never get to the next competition if you dwelt on where you went wrong. And getting to the next competition has to be the first priority.

I speak with some authority on this because of an incident in Italy when I was 17. We were being taken to an event in a place called Valcarlina by a Scottish coach-driver called Jimmy Smith. He had the sort of thick accent that fellow English- speakers have trouble in picking up, and it took a little while to get directions to the place.

The journey was expected to take about eight hours and the plan was that we would arrive in the middle of the evening, get to bed and compete on the following day. The journey perhaps took a bit longer than we expected and it was 10pm when we arrived.

But nobody there had heard of any skiing event because there wasn't one. There wasn't one because, courtesy of Jimmy's accent, we were in Valtellina, not in the place we should have been. It was another six or seven hours by the time we got to Valcarlina. We slept in the van and were far too shattered to compete for the first round. Then it snowed before the second round, so we never did ski there.

There was another time coming from back from skiing when our sponsored van broke down. We pushed it on to the ferry at Calais and at the other side were met by the AA. The van went off with them to Yorkshire.

I only remembered the following day, when I awoke with a thick head, that my passport was in the van. This wouldn't have mattered too much except that the reason for my headache was that I was recovering from my stag night and I needed my passport so I could get to St Lucia, in the Caribbean, where I was spending my honeymoon with my new wife. Hasty arrangements had to be made to transport the passport to Heathrow.

On the slopes I have never done anything - yet - which has been lastingly embarrassing. The biggest pratfall awaiting me, and one that befell somebody as good as Helmut Hoeflehner in the 1991 world championships, is at the start. Putting the pole down and pushing off is second nature, but very occasionally the pole can go down behind your skis and you just fall over. It happened to Hoeflehner. His downhill was over in two seconds.

The nearest I came to something like that was in Aspen, Colorado. Unbeknown to me, the second clip on my boot had come undone because I'd failed to keep them cold and they'd gone soft. (Which, incidentally, was another lesson.) There is a long flat section at Aspen and as I was crouching down, speeding up and working up for the first turn I noticed the clip.

My ski would have come off at the very least, had I gone into the turn like that. So I decided to take advantage of the long flat and bent down to fasten it. This cost me a couple of tenths but had to be done.

It was only on the video that it was noticed. The rest of the boys all took the mick out of me for a few days. But it's not as bad as forgetting your boots altogether, which also happens.