Going for gold
Geraint Hughes reports on Team GB's hopes of picking up medals in Skeleton and other sports at next year's Winter Games
By Geraint Hughes. Last Updated: 07/02/13 6:04pm
Team GB has won just a solitary medal at each of the the past two Winter Olympics.
In Turin 2006 Shelley Rudman slid to silver in Skeleton, while at Vancouver 2010 Amy Williams went one better by winning gold in the same sport.
Team GB are quite good at Skeleton. I met with Amy Williams recently near her home in Bath and we reminisced about when Sky Sports News followed her return to competition after the Vancouver Olympics at Igles in Austria 2011.
Sadly Williams' back problems were too much to overcome and she retired, her greatest disappointment being that she couldn't defend her Olympic title.
However, Williams was upbeat about British hopes for Sochi 2014 and in fact she's optimistic that two British women will occupy podium positions in Skeleton alone.
Rudman still competes - indeed she was last week crowned 2013 World Champion - and ended last season as the World Number 1. Rudman told me last month at a World Cup series meet at Konigssee in Germany that she wasn't going for it and was just using the opportunity to hone her skills and learn the tracks - and yet she's the world champion! Heaven knows what she can achieve if she really tries.
Rudman knows though she'll have fierce competition for Olympic gold, most notably from a fellow Brit.
Lizzy Yarnold has taken the sport by storm. Four years ago, sports junkie Yarnold attended a scheme designed to identify future Olympic talent. She wanted to compete in Modern Pentathlon, but British talent scouts thought differently and passed her onto GB Skeleton - she barely had a clue what it was, but she was a natural.
In her debut season she was raising eyebrows and this season has won prestigious World Cup series races and only missed out on a bronze medal at the World Championships on her final run.
"I absolutely love Skeleton, it suits me," she told me at Konigssee recently. "The Olympics are the focus now; I've so much still to learn and I'm using this season to take in as much as I can. It would be a dream to win gold at the Olympics, but I'll go to Sochi to win.
"The whole set up in GB Skeleton is brilliant, from the strength coaches to Andy (Schmidt - GB Skeleton Head Coach) it's very professional. It's quite an expensive sport, we have to travel a lot because we don't have our own track in Britain, but maybe that's why we are so good. We adapt so well."
In the men's event, Team GB has its own 'Dr Ice' - Kristan Bromley. He lives, eats and breathes Skeleton; his fiancée is Shelley Rudman.
The 'Dr Ice' tag comes from Bromley's PHd. He was an engineer at British Aerospace and his inventions and creations crossed over into the technological side of Skeleton. At around 30kg, a skeleton sled is not light, but its runners, the materials and design are stuff of cutting-edge technology.
Bromley believes there are comparisons with British Cycling's attention to detail with regard to technology and, of course, Team Sky Principal Dave Brailsford's mantra - "the aggregation of marginal gains."
Bromley is no mean slider, he's won pretty much everything in the sport over 18 seasons of competition. He retires after Sochi 2014, hopefully with an Olympic medal around his neck, the only major honour to elude him.
In other winter sports, Team GB has a good chance of medalling. GB Bobsleigh has always been competitive on the world stage, former 100m Olympic sprinter Craig Pickering had his first run on ice at a World Cup in Germany with experienced driver John Jackson.
Pickering told Sky Sports after that run: "It was amazing, not as good maybe as I would have hoped, I can go quicker. I have lots to learn, but getting to the "Winter Olympics is my goal."
Jackson added: "Not bad for a first run. He's got real speed and we'll need that."
Pickering's recruitment into Bobsleigh came after he lost his sprint funding because of injury; the eagle-eyed coaches saw an opportunity and persuaded Pickering to join the team.
Elsewhere, Elise Christie is a serious medal contender in 1500m short track speed skating winning European gold this season and this week bronze at the Sochi test event in Russia.
Snowboarder Zoe Gillings is among the world's elite and was fifth at a recent World Cup event.
Remember Rhona Martin? The Scottish housewife who won gold at Salt Lake City in 2002 as Team GB's women's curlers ruled the world? Once again, Team GB has a strong team led by skip Eve Muirhead who will strive for glory at Sochi in 12 months' time.