Britain senses a golden opportunity in Vancouver

As they prepare for the Winter Olympics, Team GB know they head to Canada with a rare chance to shine
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The Independent Online

Sir Steve Redgrave will accompany Britain's team to the Olympics in Vancouver as ambassador later this month; a man with almost as many gold medals as this country has ever claimed at the Winter games.

But for once a British team will head to the slopes and rinks of Vanc and Whistler Mountain more in expectation than hope. The team, unveiled by the ice rink at Somerset House in London yesterday, is not only the largest British squad sent to a winter games since 1992 but also contains more medal prospects than any team for a generation or more. Indeed this British team has a chance of bettering the gold, silver and bronze return of the 1936 games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

In this team's ranks are two world champions in David Mudoch's curlers and Team Minichello, the women's bob-sleighers. "There is a real buzz about the team," said Nicola Minichello, who will ride with her brake woman Gillian Cooke. "It is not about participating - we can dominate against the rest of the world."

Four years ago Britain won only Shelley Rudman's surprise silver in the skeleton. "Our aim is to do better than in Turin," said Andy Hunt, Britain's chef de mission. "We are not a winter sports nation, but we have fabulous medal potential."

The games begin on 12 February at a venue that, for Winter Olympians, has almost iconic standing. "To take part in a Winter Olympics in Canada is like a footballer playing at Wembley," said one British official.

UK Sport has set a target of three medals. British Olympic officials are loth to follow suit but there is genuine belief among the team that the target can be at least achieved. Here The Independent picks out Britain's leading medal contenders.

Vancouver vanguard: Britain's main medal hopes

Men's Curling

We've been here before; Rhona Martin, Salt Lake City, 2002 and six million Britons turn on their televisions in the middle of the night to watch the housewives on ice claim curling gold. This time it's the world champions on ice and this time gold is expected. David Murdoch skippers the team that won the world championship as Scotland last April and he has Olympic experience, having finished fourth four years ago. Murdoch, from Lockerbie, plans to cycle from Lands End to John O'Groats after the Games and there is a good chance he will do it with an Olympic medal hanging around his neck. "We go with high expectation," he said.

Sinead and David Kerr

Sinead, a former model for designer Alexander McQueen, and David, a former movie double for Ally McCoist, are Britain's best chance of a gold medal in skating since the Torvill and Dean era ended in what then seemed crushing disappointment of silver in Lilyhammer in 1994. The Kerrs, a Scottish brother and sister partnership, have been skating as a pair for over a decade. They are consistent performers and have medal prospects if repeating the form that earned them a bronze in last year's European championships.

Women's Bob

It is rare that any Britons in the Winter Olympics are favourites for gold, but Nicola Minichiello and Gillian Cooke will arrive in Vancouver as the team to beat. Team Minichiello have been together for barely a year but they are reigning world champions – Britain's first since 1965. This unlikely pairing – Cooke is a former long jumper for Scotland – are confident of doubling up. "All the stepping stones and building blocks are in place," Minichiello said. "We can beat anybody."

Shelley Rudman

There are few events to match the skeleton for speed and daring, and if Rudman can perform to her best in Vancouver she will become a rare British Winter Olympian by claimed a podium place at two games. Rudman won silver in Turin four years ago – Britain's sole medallist. That was a surprise, but this time, ranked 10 in the world, the 28-year-old is under pressure to at least match her achievements in 2006. Kristen Bromley, meanwhile, has real medal hopes in the men's event, which could make for a crowded mantlepiece because the pair are engaged.

Zoe Gillings

It has not been an easy preparation for the 24-year-old from the Isle of Man with the British Ski and Snowboarding Federation beset by financial problems. But she, and skiers such as Chemmy Alcott, will be in Canada and Gillings has the ability to make it on to the podium. "I think it's going to be awesome," she said. It will be Gillings's second Games, but she has steadily climbed the world rankings since finishing 15th in Turin in 2006; she won the German championships this season to prove her potential. "I've been thinking about this since the closing ceremony in 2006," said Gillings, who is ranked fifth in the world.