Eleven hundredths of a second after 4 miles of racing will sit with British Bobsleigh as a defining factor on the road to 2018. That is the time difference between the GBR 4-man team and a medal at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Performance Director Gary Anderson spoke with Racer Ready Magazine on where this places the British programme and their strategy for the next Olympic Cycle. …Â
Racer Ready: Gary, a new Olympic Cycle and a new challenge. After your success of the last Â four years, the bobsleigh world now expect Great Britain to be up there challenging for medals, how do you cope with this?Â
Gary Anderson: Its a good position to be in, our athletes have elevated the performances to a level that we now go into each competition believing we can do well. Confidence in our starting ability goes a long way in this. Other nations now see GBR as a major force, we have qualified the most number of quota places ever on the World Cup and this will now allow us to pitch British crews against each other in the highest level of competition. This will help us develop internal competition for places and allow us to make accurate and appropriate selections. The next four years are very exciting, a solid investment award from UK Sport and the National Lottery which underlines the progress we have made and the trajectory we have shown. For UK Sport to have this much confidence in us is testament to the work of the coaches and the performances of the athletes over the last four years. The past four years have been extremely enjoyable, consistently challenging and there were times where things were incredibly challenging. At the end of the day we start the new Olympic Cycle way ahead of where we started the Sochi cycle. It is up to us now to maintain the trajectory we are on, constantly challenging ourselves and ensuring that every time we go out to represent Great Britain we do so giving our very very best, that is all I can ask of my athletes as a Performance Director.
Racer Ready: You are well known for recruiting athletes into the programme to give you the velocity at the start is that continuing?
GA: Yes, without doubt. The GBR programme has adopted a strategy that in order to be competitive on a world stage we have to be amongst the worlds best starters, as a non-alpine nation with no home track we already have to come from behind, that said, there is absolutely no reason why we cannot compete with the best in the world and the way we can do that is to have the fastest start velocity. Â We have a well structured scouting network that seeks out suitable athletes. We don’t go in for this mass recruitment and testing policy that has been employed in the past. We know the type of athlete profile we need, we know where we need to strengthen our squad. Following performance analysis by our performance team we highlight the positions we need to strengthen and we go out and talk to athletes who match that profile. As you can see at the squad camp we have athletes trying-out who are from a world class programme in other sports, they have the physical characteristics we need, they have the Olympic experience we need, the job of my performance team is to now get confirmation that they can transfer these skills and abilities into being world-class bobsleighers.
Racer Ready: I see that there has been some big positional changes in the squad, could you enlighten us?
GA: Firstly when I came into this role it was always about the long term plan, sustainability of the world class programme and turning GBR into a dynasty winning nation. We could only do that if our pilots had the abilities of world class push athletes and contributed to the sled velocity at the start. You only have to look at the USA and Latvia to see that is a model that wins medals. We have taken our top push athletes now and put them in the front seat as drivers. We can only do that because we have, what i truly believe to be, one of the best driver coaching teams in the world. Yes, some would say its a gamble, I would like to describe it as a calculated strategic decision that based upon trajectories and intelligence that gives GBR a huge opportunity to now develop our programme to be competitive in all three disciplines of Olympic bobsleigh. We will immerse these â€œnew pilotsâ€ into the art of driving a sled whilst enhancing their individual athleticism and recruiting and developing push athletes to give the velocity at the start we require.
Racer Ready: How important is to you that you have a strong coaching team?
GA: Absolutely essential, It has taken over 4 years to assemble this team, we are not quite there yet and we are always looking at bringing in the appropriate individuals to support this process. It is always an evolving process but we are certainly on the right track. The concept , for us, is analysing the demands of the sport and taking the time to really figure out what it will take to win an Olympic medal.. The question we are really asking is â€˜what does it take, what price is it ? Are we willing to pay that price ? If we can get to grips with that, what it takes to win and pass that onto our athletes then you can go on and develop a real strong programme for GBR.
Racer Ready: As Performance Director you have overseen and witnessed big changes in the sport. There has been a big turnover in athletes, certainly in the early phase of your tenure. What philosophy do you have now as you approach this new cycle?
GA:Â Change was required when I first started, we needed to ensure our organisation was fundable and represented a reasonable investment opportunity. Change management is the job of a performance director, did I get it right all of the time, no, I made some mistakes but behind every decision, and some where not very popular, was the long term vision to deliver enhanced performances on the world stage. The athletes own their performance, not me or my coaching team, it is the athletes alone, we are just supporting that process in everything we do. If any action we undertake does not contribute to that sled going any faster I ask all my staff to question wether we should be doing it, that is their personal responsibility. The coaches lead the process, the process is performance driven and it is centred around the athlete. As a performance director I see myself as a facilitator and a supporter; an expert, adviser and confidant to my coaching team . I need to provide them with what they need to undertake their job, they in turn need to provide the necessary support and structure for the athlete to perform. Â Change was required when i first started, we needed to ensure our organisation was fundable and represented a reasonable investment opportunity. Change management is the job of a performance director, did i get it right all of the time, no, i made some mistakes but behind every decision, and some where not very popular, was the long term vision to deliver enhanced performances on the world stage. The athletes own their performance, not me or my coaching team, it is the athletes alone, we are just supporting that process in everything we do. If any action we undertake does not contribute to that sled going any faster I ask all my staff to question wether we should be doing it, that is their personal responsibility. The coaches lead the process, the process is performance driven and it is centred around the athlete. As a performance director I see myself as a facilitator and a supporter; an expert, adviser and confidant to my coaching team . I need to provide them with what they need to undertake their job, they in turn need to provide the necessary support and structure for the athlete to perform.
Racer Ready: What can we expect from GBR in the coming season?
GA: Coming off the back of the Olympic Games and a very strong last two years of that cycle then expectations are very high. It is, however, a longer term process we must do things right to ensure we are medal zone come 2018. That may well mean that we change a few of the crews around and experience a transitional phase which may see results be down on what we achieved in 2014. As long as we are on course with our mapped out trajectory that is the most important factor. I was having a discussion today with some of the coaching team ahead of tomorrows sessions. We evaluated where we were at this stage in 2010, one of our current coaches actually topped the push track rankings at that time ! We have a much higher starting point in terms of our abilities, the squad is stronger and we have an excellent blend of experience, youth and new athletes coming through from other sports with great Olympic Games and World Championship experience. This all adds to the ethos we are attempting to create. What I will predict is that at certain points in the season people will be able to spot exactly what we are trying to achieve long term and we hope to be able to illustrate the huge potential GBR have with these new pilots. I know it will be another thrilling journey!
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