Four current world champions and a world No 1 will head Britain’s mission to record the country’s most successful ever Winter Olympics. The 56-strong British team for the Sochi Games was finalised on Wednesday with the addition of 19 skiers and snowboarders – the most Britain has sent to an Olympics – 10 bobsleighers and four sliders.
Mike Hay, Britain’s chef de mission, urged caution ahead of his departure for Russia, but the presence of Eve Muirhead, James Woods, Elise Christie and Shelley Rudman – world champions in curling, freestyle skiing, short-track speed skating and skeleton respectively – as well as Lizzy Yarnold’s status as the current world No 1 in skeleton raises genuine hopes of a better than usual Winter Olympics. The team have been set a target of three to seven medals – Britain has never won more than four at a single Games and has not collected more than a solitary medal since the 1994 Games in Lillehammer.
“We understand expectations and we take it as a vote of confidence that this could be the most successful delegation since 1936 [when Britain won three medals],” said Hay, who coached Rhona Martin’s team to curling gold in 2002. “To think we could challenge for three medals shows how far we’ve come since Vancouver [in 2010]. It’s a challenge but it’s certainly possible. We don’t have the depth of other nations and we are fragile at the top. You don’t want to make excuses but there is an unpredictability with winter sports, they are high risk and I’m on the cautious side.”
It is the largest British team since 1998 and the best funded. UK Sport, the body that distributes government and Lottery funding, has set its target of three to seven medals in return for £14m of investment. The inclusion of a dozen new events offers a potential boost to Britain’s medal hopes – Woods and 18-year-old Katie Summerhayes will compete in slopestyle skiing in which both have podium ambitions while Jenny Jones could claim a medal in the snowboard slopestyle, another debut event.
Other medal prospects come from the male curlers and the men’s bobsleigh team – half a century on from Britain’s last gold in the event – while Andrew Musgrave has an outside chance of earning Britain’s first medal in cross-country skiing and one of the more improbable ones in the country’s Olympic history. The 23-year-old Scot, whose sister Posey is also selected, was a shock winner of the freestyle sprint at the Norwegian championships last week. Musgrave, who is based in Norway where he combines studying for an engineering degree with skiing, beat a number of the home nation’s main medal hopes for Sochi in a victory that made front-page headlines such was the scale of the upset.
On form alone Yarnold represents Britain’s best chance – in an event in which GB has won a medal at the last three Games – having dominated the World Cup season. It finishes in Germany this week with Yarnold already sure of going into the Games on top of the rankings. She has won four World Cup golds and finished on the podium after all seven races.
“This season has been great for my preparation, I am in a good place both physically and mentally,” said Yarnold. “I don’t take part in races to come second.”
Chemmy Alcott, one of only two Alpine skiers in the team, will take part in a fourth Games despite doubts around her fitness. Alcott returned to training last month having broken a leg in August 2012, the third time she has suffered such an injury. The Games begin on 7 February.
Where Team GB's Olympians were born...
1 J Baines (event: GBR2 4-man)
2 S Benson (born in Glasgow; GBR1 4-man)
3 L Deen (London; GBR2 4-man, GBR1 2-man)
4 J Fearon (GBR1 4-man)
5 J Jackson (Barnard Castle; GBR1 4-man)
6 C Pickering (GBR2 4-man, GBR1 2-man)
7 B Simons (Broseley; GBR2 4-man)
8 B Tasker (GBR1 4-man)
9 P Walker (Blackburn; GBR1 2-woman)
10 R Wilson (Altrincham; GBR1 2-woman)
11 D Ryding (Bretherton; Alpine Skiing)
12 C Alcott (Twickenham; Alpine Skiing)
13 A Musgrave (Cross Country)
14 A Young (Cross Country)
15 C Smith (Cross Country)
16 R Musgrave (Cross Country)
17 J Woods (Ski Slopestyle)
18 K Summerhayes (Ski S-style)
19 M Buchan (Ski Halfpipe)
20 J Machon (Ski Halfpipe)
21 R Cheshire (Stoke on Trent; Ski Halfpipe)
22 E Lonsdale (Settle; Ski H-pipe)
23 Z Gillings (Snowboard Cross)
24 B Morgan (Southampton; Snowboard Slopestyle)
25 J Nicholls (Bradford; Snowboard Slopestyle)
26 J Jones (Snowboard S’style)
27 A Fuller (Bromley; Snowboard Slopestyle)
28 B Kilner (Snowboard H-pipe)
29 D Harington (Leeds; Snowboard Halfpipe)
30 K Bromley (Waterfoot); 31 D Parsons (London); 32 S Rudman (Wiltshire); 33 L Yarnold
Women: 34 E Muirhead; 35 C Hamilton (Glasgow); 36 V Adams; 37 A Sloan; 38 L Gray
Men: 39 D Murdoch; 40 T Brewster; 41 G Drummond; 42 S Andrews; 43 M Goodfellow
FIGURE SKATING (6)
44 J McCorkell (ladies); 45 N Buckland (ice dance); 46 P Coomes (ice dance); 47 D King (pairs); 48 S Kemp (Preston; pairs); 49 M Parr (Newcastle; team men’s representative)
SHORT TRACK (5)
50 E Christie (500m, 1,000m, 1,500m); 51 J Eley (500m, 1,000m); 52 C Gilmartin (500m, 1,000m, 1,500m);
53 R Shoebridge (1,000m);
54 J Whelbourne (500m, 1,000m, 1,500m)
55 L Jackson (Stockton-on-Tees); 56 A Lightfoot