One year to go to Sochi – BOA positive for the team going to the Games

In exactly one year Team GB will once again be marching proudly in to a stadium for an Olympic Opening Ceremony. This time it will be in Russia for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

How many athletes do we think will be travelling to Sochi? Based on what we know today and have seen so far this winter season, Team GB is likely to be comprised of approximately 50 athletes. The first athletes have already started hitting the qualification criteria with the last possible opportunities to qualify on 19 January 2014. Selection to Team GB could start as early as April of this year and run until January next year.

For the Sochi 2014 Games, we believe this could be the most competitive winter Team GB yet.  We have some good medal contenders across a number of sports, disciplines and events. What we have to keep in mind though, is that many winter sports are highly unpredictable – more so than summer sports – in the sense that it can easily go either way. One second you are in a medal winning position, next you can be down and out of contention. That is certainly part of the excitement and thrill of watching these sports and events. They are fast, they are nail biting and they are unpredictable.

So who are Team GB’s Sochi 2014 hopefuls? Since her Olympic debut in Vancouver speed skater Elise Christie is taking the World Cup circuit by storm and is now ranked number one in the world for 1000m and only last weekend became the first GB Speed-Skater to become a World Cup Series Champion at the official test event in Sochi. James Woods is currently leading the ski slopestyle World Cup standings having won two out of two World Cups/Olympic Qualifiers so far this season. Billy Morgan and Jenny Jones made their mark in the recent World Snowboard Slopestyle Championships in Canada with a 4th and 6th place finish respectively. Last week Shelley Rudman became the first British female to be crowned skeleton World Champion. Shelley, a two time Olympian with a silver medal from the Turin 2006 Winter Olympics, was also the 2012 overall world cup skeleton champion. Lizzy Yarnold won silver at the World Cup in Park City earlier this season and finished 4th just 0.13 shy of a podium place at the 2013 skeleton World Champs. The men’s curling team is currently the second best in the world and the women are ranked 7th but came away with a silver medal at the 2012 European Championships. In the four man bobsleigh, Olympian John Jackson is currently ranked 7th in the world, with snowboarder Zoe Gillings, who made her Olympic debut in Turin 2006, ranked 8th in the world. Cross country skier and Olympian Andrew Musgrave has had a promising season so far and he continues his good form following his 9th place finish in the Tour de Ski sprint, in a field that included the powerhouses of Norway, Sweden and Germany. Our ice dancers Penny Coobes and Nick Buckland finished a creditable 5th in the recent European Figure Skating Championships in Croatia.

The GB ice hockey team has the chance to qualify for Sochi if they win the Olympic Qualification Tournament that takes place 7-10 February in Latvia. This would be the first time in over 60 years that Team GB would have an ice hockey team at the Olympic Winter Games – the last appearance was in 1948.

The Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games project is a colossal one: more than 800 venues are being built for the Games. A new railway, three new highways and eight new road junctions are also being built. The main route between the coast and the mountain cluster is 47 kilometers long, with 30km of them underground. But the infrastructure won’t be the only new thing in Sochi. We will also see events which will be part of the Winter Olympics for the first time: men’s and women’s ski halfpipe, women’s ski jumping, biathlon mixed relay, figure skating team event and luge team relay. Several of our athletes have already competed at the venues when taking part in the Test Events which Sochi 2014 has put on and the feedback has been good.

The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics will be the first winter Games to have an Olympic Park. In the past only summer Olympics have had this feature. The Park will be able to accommodate approximately 70,000 people and includes a plaza at which all athletes will receive their medals.  This will also be the first time the winter Games are being held in Russia, which is remarkable given the tradition of Olympic success and support for winter sport in Russia.

The Sochi venue concept is compact: at the last two Winter Olympics, it took hours to get from the venues based in the city to the mountains. In Sochi, travelling from the costal cluster – where the Olympic Park will host curling, short track, figure and speed skating, ice hockey and the Opening and Closing Ceremonies – to the mountain cluster will take less than 30 minutes on the new railway. The mountain cluster will include biathlon and ski complexes, a bobsleigh track, a ski center, a ski jump complex, as well as a (snowboard) park and freestyle center. The Park concept and the proximity of the mountains at these Winter Games means that spectators and athletes, once they have finished competing, will be able to consume and enjoy more sport with less travel time between venues.

At the British Olympic Association we live by the mantra “Better Never Stops”. This is why we will capitalise on all of our learning’s from the London 2012 Olympics and Vancouver 2010 to leave no stone unturned to make sure Team GB athletes have the resources and support they need to perform to the very best of their ability at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.

Andy Hunt
British Olympic Association Chief Executive