Winter Olympics: Britain's `two-bob' medallists

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The Independent Online
SEAN OLSSON's face, flushed in the aftermath of steering his four- man bobsleigh team to Britain's only medal of the Nagano Games, brightened up. Someone had asked him whether it was too much to hope that the success would lead to Britain building an actual bob run.

"We will be lucky to get a push-start, never mind a bob track," he said with a broad grin.

Even France, whose share in the bronze with Britain represented their first ever medal in the event, have got at least one bob run.

Last summer, Olsson estimated that he and his merry men - Dean Ward, a fellow corporal in First Para, Royal Marines officer Paul Attwood and computer operator Courtney Rumbolt - had done more than 2,000 pushes on the most high-tech practice machinery available to them in their own country.

He was referring to a bob on wheels which can be pushed along a 60 metres track on a piece of wasteland behind Thorpe Park amusement centre.

"There's no shelter there," he said. "So if it rains, you get wet. We have about a mile walk to get to the run where we are going through nettles and whatever."

The Germans, who won the gold medal, have four bob tracks, and wind tunnel technology which has enabled them to fix velcro pads at the scientifically determined point to connect fronts of helmets with backs of outfits - thus ensuring minimum wind resistance.

The Brits adapted this technology, but they have had to do it by eye with the help of video recordings. "Instinct is free," said Olsson.

That long, roundabout route around the children's amusements to the track mirrors the route Olsson has taken to earn the first British Olympic medal in bobsleigh since Tony Nash and Robin Dixon won the two-man event in 1964.

Having taken over as the No1 driver in 1996 when Mark Tout was suspended for life after a positive drugs test, the 30-year-old paratrooper knew that he needed a good result in Nagano to justify carrying on with the sport.

"There was never any real doubt that that was what I intended to do," he said. "But if we had had a disaster it would have made me think again."

It would also have dropped British bobsleigh from its elite status within the National Lottery award system, something which brought the sport close to pounds 300,000 pounds for the season and allowed the team to compete and train on European runs.

The burden rested on Olsson's broad shoulders even before the careering first run on Sunday had dropped his team from their overnight position in second down to joint third.

Having finished only tenth fastest on that run, Olsson improved to third fastest in the second and held Britain's place as the Swiss and US challenges dropped away.

"After the first run of the day, where we had two knock-and-slides, I have to admit my confidence was down," Olsson said. "If I had got any feeling of `Sod it, Sean's lost it' from the other guys, that would have finished me off.

"But they were great. They said they had absolute confidence in me, and that inspired me. We said to each other: `This is it, this is our big chance. We can't let this go now'. When I went to the block again I was ready to give it 110 per cent.

"I have never known pressure like it. The last 24 hours have probably been the worst of my life."

But even as he said it, realisation of what he had finally achieved was beginning to sink in, and you fancied that the next 24 hours of his life might form a mirror image.

Irrespective of the long-term benefits, his efforts had finished what has been a long and not conspicuously successful sojourn for the British team on a much-needed high note.

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