It has been a dramatic, exhilarating fortnight here in Sochi, one which, to
me, has felt in many ways like a real breakthrough Winter Olympics for
What I have witnessed here at our most successful Games ever, with four medals
going into the final day, has convinced me that we are making dramatic
improvements in winter sports and that there is more to come. Sochi could be
just the start.
What the Games have demonstrated again is that our winter sports can be as
good as our summer sports if the required level of structure, organisation,
funding and talent identification is put in place.
Take my sport, skeleton, where Lizzy Yarnold struck gold again. For us, it was
about having the best coaches, best equipment, best environment to train in
and the best talent spotting. Multiply it all together and the sum can be
the best world-class performance.
So there is no reason why we cannot do more programmes like that. Short track
speed skating has organised itself in a similar way, with a performance
centre in Nottingham where the best can prepare together.
OK, so we did not come home with a short track medal this time, what with
Elise Christie’s terrible luck – I really felt for her – but everybody could
see the rich potential. Both Elise and her sport are ready to thrive.
And there is no reason why we should not thrive in other areas like ice hockey
or long track speed skating, if there is the vision and the will from those
who fund and govern our sports.
In the past, I feel there has been this perception of winter athletes being
the poor relations to our summer cousins. It now needs an act of faith from
the sports authorities to show that we believe in our winter athletes and
will back them to the hilt.
First, a summer Games in London and now a winter Games have produced our best
ever results. This is not a coincidence: winning is infectious and, in four
years in Pyeongchang, I expect we will have even better results.
But momentum is critical. The big problem for winter sports is keeping the
interest which has been generated from Sochi in between Games. That’s why
when I go back home, I would love to try to get a show off the ground which
could showcase these sports every week through the winter.
Yes, there is Ski Sunday, which is great covering skiing and a bit of
snowboarding, but how about a TV programme featuring all our athletes
performing so well around the circuit in all our winter disciplines?
Nobody is highlighting our achievements in between Games yet it could bring in
the interest and the money those sports need.
Obviously, creating champions needs investment – serious money to provide the
good facilities, and game-changing programmes like Girls4Gold that
identified Lizzy. Yet the results have been there for all to see in Sochi.
I do not see why, when there is a swimming pool in nearly every single town
and city in our country, we cannot have an ice rink there as well.
I’m sure there is a whole generation of kids who have watched these games and
now think they want to be a skater, slider or slopestyler and then realise
there is only one ice skating rink 100 miles away. How brilliant it would be
if you could get children coming through as skaters because they’ve got a
rink at the end of the road.
These are not impossible dreams, especially when there is now a group of
winter athletes to really inspire the next generation. Travelling around
these Games, I have sensed a new breed of athlete out here, a young bunch,
with an average age probably in their early twenties, who now believe those
medals are in their grasp.
I talked to James Woods, who is still really distraught about his performance
in the ski slopestyle, knowing he had the skills to win a medal.
Yet the fact he was so mad with himself shows we are now developing athletes
who are winners and not happy to settle for less. I hope that my victory
four years ago did its bit to help change that mentality too.
’Woodsy’, who seriously hurt his hip in training, and athletes like Rowan
Cheshire, who was knocked out while attempting one of her tricks on the
halfpipe, also showed another side of our winter Olympians – just how tough
I think that stems from the fact that they are being asked to make bigger
sacrifices than any other athletes. They are away from friends, family and
home on the road around the world, searching out the snow and the ice six,
seven months of the year. These sacrifices are such that they create a real
determination and hardness.
Emma Lonsdale came 18th in the ski halfpipe and told me she was disappointed
with her place but then explained how she has three jobs back home and works
18 hours a day just to scrape enough funding together to find the snow and
My message to her was simple. I said: “Don’t be disappointed. You can hold
your head up high, you’ve done it all by yourself, purely funding yourself.
It is athletes like Emma who deserve our support. They have done us proud here