Winter Olympics: Champagne stays on ice for Gooch

Stephen Brenkley talks to the skater with a nagging score to settle in Nagano

IT WAS a bold manoeuvre, as outrageous as it was beautiful. Nicky Gooch was skating for Britain in the Lillehammer Winter Olympic Games. It was the final, no less, of the 1000 metres short track event and suddenly Gooch spotted a gap opening in front of him.

He had no choice but to go for it. As he did so a medal and maybe his whole life flashed before his eyes. Then, the Canadian, Derek Campbell, whom he was attempting to overtake appeared to cut across his path. The pair collided and Campbell fell out of the race. Gooch whizzed smoothly on to second place and a nation for which ice largely remains an object for insertion in gin and tonics cheered.

Which shows that the nation either knows little about short track speed skating or was on a surfeit of G&T at the time. There was to be no silver medal. Within minutes Gooch was disqualified. The burden of guilt in a sport of such fine balance and judgement is almost always placed on the man skating up from behind.

Crestfallen and miffed, Gooch, to his immense credit, managed to regroup sufficiently to claim bronze at 500 metres, his weaker distance. But the memory of the collision has stayed with him, probably even concentrated his mind in the past four years since he returned from Norway and began the long preparation for Nagano. He will not make the same mistake again, for mistake it was. What looked a thing of serenity to us as he arched his back to achieve some rapid propulsion was not quite so.

"I thought the referee's interpretation might have been different but the fact is I panicked," said Gooch last week, as Nagano and the chance to rectify matters began to close in on him. "I suddenly felt I had to do that. OK he seemed to block me but the rules are pretty strict. Campbell and I didn't speak for a long time. It's OK now, a bit strained maybe. I don't think I'd like to be racing against him first up this time."

This time will be Gooch's last. He is 25 and at 29 short track skaters have started to wheeze rather than whizz. This is his third Olympics and he is one of the few men in the world to have competed in all of them since the sport was added to the programme. Not that he intends the Games to be finished with him altogether.

So dedicated is he to the whole ethos that he wants to compete in a summer games as well. "I decided that when I was 16 and it's been a goal in my life. Skating came first but that would be really something, going to a summer games too. It'll probably be cycling because I do that for training. I'm not international class yet but I'm serious about it."

This besotted Olympian goes to Nagano 98 with genuine medal prospects, though nobody should assume this puts him among the favourites. A year ago he had a wretched time in the World Championships and finished 18th. When he started this season indifferently he might have thought he was finished.

"The other countries were skating so quickly before we'd warmed up. If they'd continued like that we were in trouble." The turning point for him came in the Olympic qualifying event. This determines how many places countries are allotted though the opponents are the same. Gooch finished third and the formidable Canadian Marc Gagnon skated over to him to say: "Glad to see you're back among us."

That was a touching gesture in a sport which can be rife with confrontation. It may look all smooth and elegant but there can be a lot of jostling and potential for enmity over a tight, curved track of 111.12 metres. Gooch was appropriately lifted by it and last weekend in Holland he built on that success by winning the 1,000 metres European title. True, disqualification in the 500m put him out of contention for an overall medal but he skated with conviction and flair.

"I'd been ill and was feeling pretty rough going into them. When you consider that it's a title I've won twice then maybe I should be disappointed but I know what effort it took. The Olympics are the most special thing of all. At my age the combination of experience and speed should be at their most powerful.

"I've played the races in my mind. So many things in this sport are out of your control. The ice, a loose blade, proximity of opponent can all come into play and you can be out. But nobody fancied me last time. I can win a medal again and it could be gold." For a moment it was as though he had spotted a gap opening up in front of him.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most