Mission 2014 set to put Britain on the winter sport map
As a Performance Director who cut his teeth in Olympic Winter sport, it’s exciting for me to be marking one year to go to Sochi 2014 in my new role as Director of Performance at UK Sport.
The year to go marker is a particularly exciting and sometimes nervous time for aspiring Olympians and Paralympians, their coaches and support staff. It provides an opportunity to pause for thought, and to dream about the possibility of success on the biggest stage of all.
Typically, most athletes and their coaches don’t dwell on these thoughts very long as the more nerve jangling reality of qualifying for the Winter Games comes into focus. Attention very quickly turns to: “what do I need to do today, tomorrow and the next day to be in the best shape possible?” Minds turn to the prospect of staying healthy for another year through a heavy summer of physical and technical preparation, getting into form in next season’s World Cup events, and reaching Sochi optimally prepared.
One of my immediate tasks in my new role, bringing a fresh pair of eyes as well as my experiences with British Skeleton, will be to look at how we can best support our Performance Directors, coaches, support staff and athletes, as well as our partners in the BOA and BPA, to refine their final preparations and put them in the best possible position to plot the smoothest course through the challenges the next year will present so they can arrive in Sochi with the best possible chance of achieving their goals.
Of course, much of the work is already done; over £13 million National Lottery funding, a record amount, is being invested by UK Sport in winter sports over the four years to Sochi, and this is the first cycle the winter sports have been aligned with UK Sport’s ‘No Compromise’ approach to investment. This represents a major breakthrough in the resourcing of our most talented winter athletes. Only last weekend Shelley Rudman, and one of her coaches, Mark “Woody” Wood, reminded me how far the funded sports have travelled in partnership with UK Sport on the journey to delivering sustained success.
Shelley, who became Britain’s first female World Champion in the sport of Skeleton last Friday, was selected in the first cohort of British Skeleton’s talent identification and development programme in the summer of 2002. Six athletes travelled with Woody throughout the 2002/03 winter season on a no frills programme with a budget of £20,000. Greg Kirk won the World Junior Championship that year, and UK Sport began to fund the development programme.
UK Sport’s partnership with British Skeleton grew year on year with research and innovation projects, and elite coach development helping to develop the programme in addition to more funding. The return on investment from the original group of six has been impressive. Shelley went on to win a silver medal at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games, Adam Pengilly became a World Championship silver medallist in 2009, and Amy Williams capped off the sport’s evolution becoming the 2010 Olympic Champion.
In recent years, the UK Sport/English Institute of Sport Talent Team has enabled a far more sophisticated talent recruitment programme through campaigns such as ‘Pitch2Podium’ and ‘Girls4Gold’. These have attracted ever more talented athletes into British Skeleton, and with the help of the Talent Team Scientists, Technical Director Andi Schmid and Woody have fast-tracked athletes like Lizzy Yarnold and Dom Parsons toward the top of the world rankings in the past three years.
It’s not only our skeleton athletes who are in great shape. UK Sport’s Mission 2014 process is telling us the sports’ are on track, and a number of athletes across the winter sports are making regular podium appearances, including James Woods in freestyle skiing and Elise Christie in short track skating.
Research and innovation projects have been undertaken across the majority of our funded winter sports in partnership with organisations like McLaren Applied Technologies and several top UK Universities to ensure the coaches and their athletes are operating at the very cutting edge of winter sport - I hope to be able to share more on some of these exciting innovations nearer the time.
The next two months are a crucial time for the winter Olympic and Paralympic sports as their annual milestone events are taking place alongside test events in Sochi; the test events are a great opportunity to gain insight and competitive experience in the venues ahead of next year. Great Britain’s short track speed skater Elise Christie confirmed her World number one status at Sochi’s “Iceberg” Skating Palace this week as she took silver in the penultimate World Cup of the season, securing enough ranking points to confirm her place as 2013 World Cup Champion ahead of time.
While much of the attention over the past year has, quite rightly, been on the summer sports, their winter sport colleagues have been quietly, but very confidently, making good progress towards success in Sochi.
We won’t be talking publically about a medal target range for Sochi until just before the Games. We keep a constant dialogue with sports through the Mission 2014 process over their annual and quadrennial targets, but the final targets for Sochi 2014 won’t be narrowed down and agreed with sports until their final Mission 2014 submission this winter, to ensure they are as representative as possible of each sport’s true performance potential come Games time.
I know from a recent benchmarking and research trip I made to INSEP, the French national sports institute, that the UK’s stock internationally could not be higher following the London 2012 Games, and the rest of the world want to know how we achieved such a remarkable rise to a power house in summer Olympic and Paralympic sport.
We don’t have such a standing in the winter sports arena, but the progress being made in the development of our high performance system is certainly benefitting the winter sports, and making the opportunity to deliver Great Britain’s best Winter Games performance in recent memory feel possible.
I’m delighted to have joined UK Sport, and I’m really looking forward to working with such an experienced, progressive and skilled team, both within the organisation and across British sport. Let’s hope that one of the early legacies of the progress made in the high performance system in preparation for London 2012 could be further success for British winter sport in Sochi.
Simon Timson is the Director of Performance at UK Sport and formerly Performance Director at British Skeleton (2000-2006).