Britain slide out of sight at disappointing Beijing Olympics

Britain slide out of sight at disappointing Beijing Olympics


Beijing Olympics have been a let-down for Britain.

ZHANGJIAKOU (AFP) - Sporting powerhouse Britain has experienced a disappointing Beijing Winter Olympics with only the curling teams saving the blushes of a small but well-funded squad.

Eve Muirhead’s women’s curling team won gold in the closing hours of the Games on Sunday after the men had taken silver 24 hours earlier.

Those late successes saved Team GB from returning home from a Winter Olympics empty-handed for the first time since the 1992 Albertville Games.

But the Beijing Olympics have still been a let-down for a country that pumped around 28 million pounds ($38 million) into pursuing glory at the Games in the Chinese capital and set a target of three to seven medals.

Hugh Robertson, chairman of the British Olympic Association, told AFP the results were "slightly disappointing but understandable".

Speaking before the final weekend of the Games, Robertson said the event had been "uniquely challenging" because of the Covid pandemic but that was not "an excuse for Team GB".

"We are looking at the lower end of our medal range in Beijing -- that will be slightly disappointing but understandable," he said.

"We need to look at our performance very closely but also put it in an historical context. We are not heavy medallists in the Winter Olympics."

Britain has spent serious money on winter sports in recent years, especially on skeleton, which had nearly 6.5 million pounds of funding leading up to Beijing.

Skeleton is something of a British speciality, producing a medal at every Winter Olympics since 2002, including three at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

But British racers endured a nightmare on the track north of Beijing, finishing well out of contention.

"Obviously the speed that I so desperately want is not there and there’s nothing that I can do about that now, it’s done," said Laura Deas, a bronze medallist in Pyeongchang, who finished 19th out of 20 in the women’s event.

Some of the team suggested that their equipment was to blame, while slider Matt Weston said "experience has a lot to do with it".

McLaren Applied Technologies, a sister company to the Formula One team, is involved in the design of Britain’s sleds.

The British team’s misery was compounded by the fact that Jaclyn Narracott, who won a skeleton silver medal for Australia, trains at Bath University in southwest England, where the British skeleton team is based.

Narracott’s husband and coach is former slider Dom Parsons, who won bronze for Britain in Pyeongchang.

It was a similar story in the two-woman bobsleigh -- Mica McNeill said something went "drastically wrong" after she and her brakewoman, former Olympic sprinter Montell Douglas, finished 17th.

The four-man bobsleigh team fared better, coming sixth behind the all-dominant Germans.

- ‘Full of jeopardy’ -

Robertson said there will be a "full review" when Team GB return, with Olympic chiefs "deciding what we are going to do" for the 2026 Milan-Cortina Games.

Britain won 22 gold medals in last year’s Tokyo Summer Olympics to finish fourth in the medals table, but Robertson said he would not turn his back on the Winter Games.

"I would argue that if Team GB has ambitions to be a global Olympic power, we have to compete in both the Summer and Winter Games," he said.

"No point putting our arms up or turn our backs to the wall in terms of the Winter Games."

Robertson said the pandemic has made it difficult for British athletes to travel abroad for training and that luck has also played a part.

"Winter sports are full of jeopardy," he said.

"Athletes perform on the edge the whole time and if you come from a nation that is desperately trying to be competitive, athletes have to have things go their way."

Robertson said every British athlete was "desperate to compete" in Beijing and that "without exception they are delighted to have had that opportunity".

"In a country without the infrastructure for winter sports, everything has to go to plan," he said.

"For a whole variety of reasons they have not gone our way, but that is sport."