As someone who can barely stand in a pair of ice skates, and has never even put on a pair of skis, I have total admiration for all the competitors currently participating in the Winter Olympics over in South Korea.
Whilst Team GB has regularly won medals across a range of sports in the summer Games, success in the winter equivalent has been much less frequent – hardly surprising given a climate that is far more temperature than my constant moaning would suggest.
There have been some notable British triumphs down the years, particularly on the skating rink; the household names of Curry, Cousins, Torvill and Dean being responsible for three of just 11 gold medals across the 23 Winter Olympic Games.
(Actually that number increases to 12 if you count the ladies’ singles figure skating gold won by Madge Syers at the 1908 summer Games in London, which given the blog’s title, I absolutely do!)
Robin Dixon and Tony Nash are arguably less well-known, but their victory in the 1964 two-man bobsleigh event in Innsbruck has ensured they have a deserved place in British sporting history. Believe it or not, Great Britain has also won a gold medal in ice hockey too; although the team in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1936 was mainly composed of dual-nationalist British-Canadians, many of whom had learned and played the game in Canada.
Apart from 1936, Canada won every ice hockey gold up to (and including) 1952, so whatever the make-up of the British squad, it was still a superb achievement.
Apart from figure skating, curling is one of only two other sports in which Great Britain has won more than one gold medal – Rhona Martin leading the women’s team to the top of the podium at Salt Lake City in 2002, some 78 years after the men’s team tasted similar success at the inaugural winter Games in Chamonix; the quartet including a father and son in Willie and Laurence Jackson.
The other sport is skeleton. What is truly incredible is this event could be dominated by a country that doesn’t even have a track! The University of Bath has a push-start track, but there are no ice-based facilities, and for five different British women to have won medals in each of the five Olympics since the sport was introduced is an amazing statistic.
Men’s skeleton had been held prior to 2002, with David Carnegie and John Crammond taking bronze medals in 1928 and 1948 respectively, before Dom Parsons’ third-place in Pyeongchang. However it is our female athletes that have provided a string of wonderful performances and unforgettable medal-winning moments. First came Alex Coomber with bronze in 2002; four years later Shelley Rudman went one better by claiming a superb silver in Turin, before Amy Williams’ fantastic and historic gold in Vancouver in 2010.
Amy’s medal was the first individual Winter Olympic gold won by a British woman since…
Jeannette Altwegg at the Oslo Games in 1952. Jeannette was actually a talented tennis player who reached the junior finals at Wimbledon before turning her attention to figure skating…
The subsequent feat of the inspirational Lizzy Yarnold in winning back-to-back skeleton competitions in Sochi and Pywongyang is unprecedented in British Winter Olympic sport.
Just as with her predecessors on the skeleton podium, Lizzy is an outstanding athlete, whose dedication, determination and bravery has been rewarded with success at the very highest level. The fact that Laura Deas joined Lizzy on the podium with last week’s third-place simply reinforces the strength of the skeleton training programme and the ability to identify and develop athletes with all the credentials to grow our tradition in this most non-traditional of sports…