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Friday, December 9, 2022

Winter Olympics: Curling medals can’t mask Team GB disappointment after progress of Sochi and Pyeongchang

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s Team GB depart Beijing, they have their curlers to thank for a disaster averted, but once the glow of Eve Muirhead & Co.’s gold, as well as men’s silver, on the final weekend fades, it will be difficult to judge these Winter Olympics as much more than a disappointment.

At Winter Games, for a nation devoid of much snow, the fanfare that has accompanied Great Britain’s resurgence as a Summer Games powerhouse since the turn of the century has always been much more muted but five medals at each of the past two editions suggested things were on an upward trajectory in chillier climes, too.

Two in PyeongChang had come from the ski and snowboard programme, prompting then performance director Dan Hunt to set his sights on making Britain a top-five nation on the snow by the 2030 Games, with 10 to 12 medals coming from that team alone.

But the closest anyone came to a medal in Beijing was the youngest member of the team, 17-year-old Kirsty Muir, who was very impressive for her fifth place in the Big Air final.

AFP via Getty Images

No medal on snow hardly seemed value for an investment of nearly £10million, although it was hardly the only discipline within the Team GB set-up to struggle in Beijing.

Since skeleton’s introduction to the Winter Games in 2002, Britain has impressively picked up a medal on each occasion. In Beijing, the best they could manage was 15th.

It left much head scratching for the £6.42m investment over the past four years, with Laura Deas, a bronze medallist in 2018, finishing a lowly 19th and unable to explain the lack of speed. The inference in the resulting fall-out – from Deas’ father at least – was that the kit simply wasn’t good enough.

“No one comes to the Olympics especially a previous medallist to finish 19th,” she said. “Nobody works this hard for four years to do that. The speed that I so desperately want is not there and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

So, it was left to curling to save the day, although supposedly their best shot at gold went begging when Bruce Mouat and Jen Dodds were upstaged in both their semi-final and bronze-medal match in the mixed doubles tournament.

Not until Mouat’s men won their semi-final on Day 13 were Britain finally guaranteed a medal. Not until Muirhead, Dodds ,Vicky Wright and Hailey Duff beat Japan on the 16th and final day did they strike gold.

PA

With each moment – Charlotte Bankes’ misjudged snowboard cross quarter-final, Dave Ryding’s first-run error in the slalom and the upturned bobsleigh – the long wait became that bit more painful.

Team GB have made no excuse for failing to reach the UK Sport target of three to seven medals, but it is only fair to point out there have clearly been mitigating circumstances.

Covid is believed to have hampered some athletes’ build-up to the Games, Andrew Young recovering just in time to board the plane but a after far from ideal lead-in for the long-busting discipline of cross-country skiing.

And then there is the matter of Brexit, which has limited the amount of time that British athletes have been able to spend out on the snow on the continent.

There are reasons to be positive. Muir has been labelled as a once-in-a-generation athlete and won’t have her school studies to contend with in four years’ time while the Atkin sisters – Zoe and PyeongChang medallist Izzy, who’s pelvic injury forced her out of competition – are also ones for the future.

In Cortina, Bankes will be 30 and with four more years’ experience. Tellingly, the gold medallist in her event, Lindsey Jacobellis is 36.

Former British skeleton athlete Kristan Bromley, who picked up medals of sorts in Beijing with sleds designed for other nations, has offered to help Britain’s skeleton aspirations for four years’ time.

Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson may not go on to become the next Torvill and Dean but have been talked about as future medallists on the world stage.

And then there are the curlers, led by Mouat and Muirhead, who one suspects will be back when the Games resume in 2026.

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