Freestylers raise British hopes

Congleton Guardian: James Woods James Woods

Great Britain freestyle skiing coach Pat Sharples has hailed a new era of winter sport success for Great Britain after a 56-strong team was declared for the Winter Olympics in Sochi next month.

Sharples' own squad of six young freestyle stars includes overall ski slopestyle World Cup winner James Woods plus two other podium finishers on the World Cup circuit in Katie Summerhayes and halfpipe star Rowan Cheshire.

And Sharples believes the expansion of the freestyle programme for 2014 will make the Games more relevant to a new generation, who for once will have the means to channel their enthusiasm in snow domes across the country.

Sharples said: "Freestyle is great for the Olympics - it's exciting and fresh and it's bringing a whole new audience to the Games.

"In Britain in particular the sport has progressed so much and if you had told me three or four years ago where we would be today I would have been amazed.

"We are going to Sochi with realistic medal chances. The team has been together for years and there is a great team spirit and bond between the athletes. That is definitely a big advantage for us."

There are genuine hopes that freestyle success will help Team GB achieve its best Winter Games in history, more than matching the three medals claimed in 1936 in Garmisch.

The team includes skeleton star Lizzy Yarnold - who has won four out of seven World Cup races so far this season - and two reigning world champions in Yarnold's team-mate Shelley Rudman and curler Eve Muirhead.

Yarnold said; "I have dreamed my whole life about becoming a British Olympian and for the last five years since I took up skeleton, competing at Sochi 2014 has been my primary focus.

"I don't take part in races to come second, so I will approach the Olympic Winter Games as I do every race and give it everything I've got."

Great Britain chef de mission Mike Hay was keen to urge caution over the medal target but did not seek to disguise his belief that the squad for Sochi is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, in British winter sports history.

Hay said: "We understand expectations and we take it as a vote of confidence that this could be the most successful delegation since 1936.

"To think we could challenge for three medals shows how far we've come since Vancouver, because we could not have delivered that four years ago. It's a challenge but it's certainly possible.

"I don't want to put undue pressure on the athletes. We don't have the depth of other nations and we are fragile at the top and we need to stay focused.

"You don't want to make excuses but there is an unpredictability with winter sports, they are high-risk and I'm on the cautious side."

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