The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games were, of course, utterly extraordinary. A sporting landmark matched only on a few rare occasions, particularly for those of us lucky enough to experience it in London with all the fervour that built behind Team GB.
The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games will, almost certainly, not have the same impact. Aside from the simple differences in proximity, the fact is, Britain has never quite taken the Winter Olympics to its heart in the same manner as its summer equivalent. Except, of course, for when the first drum beats of Bolero strike up and ITV executives sniff out another celebrity talent show franchise…
Despite a lack of surface lustre, though, and with the Games now a mere 3-and-a-bit months away, there is actually a huge amount for British fans to look forward to, not least some hotly-tipped female medal prospects.
Shelley Rudman – Skeleton
One of the most fantastically terrifying of the Winter Olympic disciplines, it takes a special type of person to be able to willingly throw themselves face-first down a solid ice track, knowing full well that if they get it absolutely spot on, they may find themselves hurtling forwards at speeds in excess of 70mph. Shelley Rudman is, indeed, a special type of person.
An experienced Olympian, having competed at both the 2006 and 2010 Games, Rudman was the only person that stood between Great Britain and a total medal washout in her first Games, returning home with a hard-earned silver.
Following a disappointing 2010 Games in which she finished in 6th position, Rudman’s improvements in the last couple of years have seen her hold the World Cup title in 2011/2012, while she will go to Sochi as reigning World Champion after her victory in St Moritz earlier this year.
At 32 years of age, Sochi is likely to represent Rudman’s last shot at an Olympic Gold – and an opportunity for Great Britain to retain its Skeleton Gold Medal, won by the sadly retired (but now awesomely rallying) Amy Williams in 2010.
Elise Christie – Short Track Speed Skating
Elise Christie is, to put it simply, a phenomenon. An Olympian at just 19 years of age, Christie’s debut games saw her finish in 11th, 19th and 20th places in the 500m, 100m and 1500m disciplines.
What promise that demonstrated has been built, developed and delivered upon in the ensuing years, with the young Scot adopting the same approach which has seen Team GB’s cycling programme earn global dominance, finding a series of marginal gains which now place her amongst the most devastating short track skaters in the world.
A World Championship bronze medalist, World Cup title holder and double European Champion, Christie’s ability to dominate races from the front of the pack mark her out as unusual in a sport which typically rewards those with the ability to break late from within a chasing group.
Having recently commented on her desire to improve her racing from within less favourable conditions – particularly those where she is unable to open up an insurmountable lead from the start – Christie’s drive and determination will make her a serious prospect next February.
Chemmy Alcott – Alpine Skiing
Truth be told, Alcott may not be amongst the realistic medal prospects for Sochi. But then again, competing in the Alpine Skiing disciplines hasn’t traditionally been a mine of medal success for Great Britain, and Alcott’s is a story worth relaying.
A three time Winter Olympian, five time senior British National Champion, survivor of a broken neck (sustained, naturally, while skiing) and injured multiple times in the pursuit of improvement, Alcott has raced unfunded since 2010 after UK Sport withdrew all funding for Alpine Skiing in the build up to the Olympics.
Having been ranked as high as number 8 in the world and with experience on her side, Alcott will enter the Sochi Games as an outsider. But an outsider to keep an eye on nevertheless.
Lizzy Yarnold – Skeleton
Great Britain’s history of winter sport success may not be illustrious, but in the Skeleton pools of talent run deep.
All being well, 2014 will see Yarnold compete at her first Olympic Games having only begun competing on the senior circuit during the 2012/2013 season. A former World Junior champion and bronze medalist in the senior World Championships, Yarnold has quickly become a vital part of Great Britain’s most competitive Winter Olympic discipline.
How Yarnold reacts to Olympic pressure will undoubtedly tell its own story, yet given the speed at which she has taken to the sport’s senior ranks, it wouldn’t be altogether surprising to see her challenging for the medal rostrum next year.
Eve Muirhead – Curling
Another Winter Olympic sport with a strong British track record, Eve Muirhead captains the GB curling team and will lead them into Sochi 2014 as reigning World Champions.
Competing in her second Games at just 23 years old, Muirhead – remarkably – will be the most senior member of a team with genuine designs on the Gold medal.
A four time junior World Champion, Muirhead will look to draw on the disappointment of crashing out before at the round-robin stage during the 2010 Games.
Katie Summerhayes – Freestyle Skiing
Katie Summerhayes is, undoubtedly, a major medal prospect for Great Britain in 2014. Katie Summerhayes spent early 2013 recovering from a knee injury so serious that it threatened her entire career. Katie Summerhayes is just weeks beyond her 18th birthday.
Frankly, those three facts scare this Sportist writer an increasingly large amount, but fear is a state of mind that simply doesn’t appear to factor for this World Cup silver medalist. Summerhayes’ feat at the World Cup is doubly remarkable for the fact that not only was it her first event back on the slopes since severely damaging her cruciate, but that it was the first World Cup medal won by a British female athlete in 19 years.
Summerhayes’ Sochi campaign is not without its threats – indeed, her very appearance is contingent on her knee holding up – but should she make it to the Games, be ready to witness one of Team GB’s most assuredly capable competitors.
Image from telegraph.co.uk – Thanks!