Winter Olympics: Gooch enters the British bronze age

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The Independent Online
NICKY GOOCH, denied an Olympic silver medal earlier this week after being disqualified for charging in the 1,000 metres short-track speed skating final, consoled himself with a bronze in the 500 metres last night. This time they let him keep it.

Thus Britain has two medals at the same Winter Games for the first time since 1948, when they took bronze in the now discontinued Cresta run and, thanks to Jeanette Altwegg, the ladies' figure skating.

Britain's challenge in the rollerball-style short-track events had appeared doomed to failure here, what with Gooch's disqualification and the traumatic experiences of his colleague Wilf O'Reilly, who suffered damaged skates in both the 1,000 and 500 metres qualifying rounds, hearing of the failure of his appeal in the latter competition early yesterday.

But this 21-year-old from Barnes in south-west London has reacted ideally in adversity. Powerfully built, but worryingly pale, he has turned himself into a phlegmatic warrior since he lost his nerve at the last Games, where he fell in the opening round - 'I walked on the ice and thought 'God, I'm at the Olympics'.' The task has been aided by the attentions of his coach, Alan Luke, and a dedicated team that includes a physiotherapist, a physiologist and a psychologist.

'I have had a lot of disappointments in the last couple of years,' said Gooch, face dazed with the realisation of what he had just achieved, and with sweat beginning to break through his spiky fair hair. 'I have worked very hard on getting my mental approach right. The experiences have made me a lot stronger. I had to stay cool and relax and I knew I would come through in the end.

'Wilf has been helping me out behind the scenes. The whole of the British team has been supportive to me after the 1,000 metres, saying 'you were really great' and 'we were really proud of you'.' Among the well-wishers was Christopher Dean, supplier of the earlier bronze with Jayne Torvill in the ice dance. 'He is staying in the same corridor at the Games village and he came over and said how well he thought I'd done.'

Gooch's chance came unexpectedly when Marc Gagnon, Canada's 18-year-old world champion, slid out of the reckoning with just over two of the four and a half laps remaining as he challenged for second place. Gooch was back in fourth place at the time. It happened as he said; he stayed cool and relaxed and came through in the end, finishing strongly behind Mirko Vuillermin, the Italian world record holder in a British record time of 43.68sec. The Italian relaxed on the line to allow Kim Ki-hoon of Korea to add to the gold he had won her over 1,000 metres in 43.45sec.

There was a strange symmetry in last night's events. When Gooch was disqualified, his medal passed to the only other finisher and Gagnon received the bronze as winner of the previous B final. Now the Briton benefited from the Canadian's ill fortune.

Next month Gooch, the European champion, will feel at home as he attempts to add a world medal - this year's world championships are being held at the Guildford Leisure Centre where he works as a maintainance assistant. He came to the Lillehammer Olympics as the junior partner to the unfortunate O'Reilly. He leaves with a wide open horizon.

Tout's torture, page 6