One year on from the Sochi 2014 Winter Games, UK Sport Director of Performance Simon Timson reflects on the record breaking British success, and how the plans laid in 2015 will be crucial to building on this at PyeongChang 2018.
Four Olympic and six Paralympic medals in Sochi - what has that success meant for British winter sports?
I think we can safely say Sochi was a watershed moment for British winter sports. The fantastic collective performance led to investment in winter sports being doubled, and the opportunity for a number of sports to really build an infrastructure and a pathway for the first time. Many are still working with a relatively small cohort of athletes, but ones that have the potential to be even more successful in PyeongChang in three years’ time.
However, in a world where international competition is getting increasingly tough, we’re not the only nation investing more in winter sport, with the likes of Germany, Latvia, Canada and America all working incredibly hard to increase their medal share across the events we support. The Sochi Games also had a huge impact on Russian winter sport and are leaving a performance legacy; you only need to look at the medallists on the Skeleton World Cup this season to see the Russian men and women are consistently on the podium.
No one in British winter sport can afford to rest on their laurels and sit still; we need to make the most of the opportunity that Sochi created.
In what ways have the sports been able to make a difference since Sochi?
UK Sport and Home Country Sports Institute partnership initiatives like Power2Podium
are pumping talented new athletes into sports like skeleton
. Eight new athletes made the final cut last month from the 3,500 that applied immediately after Sochi last year. Bobsleigh
has initiated an accelerated driver development programme. Sochi brakeman, Bruce Tasker who finished fifth in the back of John Jackson’s four man sled has moved into the front seat, and is already consistently producing top ten performances in the Europa cup.
In figure skating
, Penny Coomes and Nick Buckland are continuing to improve, and finished on the podium for the first time in a really significant event in North America recently. In short track speed skating
, Elise Christie is now European champion over 500m and 1500m.
We’ve supported disability ski
with the appointment of a new, full-time professional performance director for the first time to get the right strategy in place and employ the right coaches and really leverage the opportunities that are there. Results have been encouraging too, despite Jade Etherington’s retirement, with Millie Knight and Jennifer Kehoe on the World Cup podium.
There’s been a huge amount of activity, and we don’t expect to see all the fruits of that in performance terms on the world stage yet. We have a strong focus on enabling sports’ to develop their leadership and strategy plus identifying the right athletes during the first two years of the PyeongChang cycle. This should ensure that our funded winter sports are effectively positioned to succeed in the final two years on the run into PyeongChang. There are already positive signs, but there’s a huge amount to do and our international rivals are looking at us and trying to take our medal share, as they are in the summer sports, so we’ve got to be smarter, more focused and incredibly diligent.
Why does UK Sport set milestone targets for the sports each year?
Milestone targets, which are set in negotiation with sports, are one of a number of indicators we use to track sports progress towards an Olympic or Paralympic Games. Results against targets are then used to inform trajectory analyses of athletes and programmes toward the podium in Pyeongchang.
Individual sport’s targets are structured very differently to reflect their key objectives at a given stage of the four year cycle. Normally these targets would be at the major event of the year and there is a very clear outcome; in other words, where do you need to finish to be on track for Pyeongchang? You might not see medals in the target in the first year of a cycle like this one, and especially when a sport might be focusing on other objectives such as driver development in bobsleigh, but you would do further on in the cycle.
It’s not a simple process, particularly with winter sports, where it’s not always as straightforward as having a single World Championship where all the world’s best athletes compete providing the primary indicator of success, so we have to be flexible in our approach. For example, the Freestyle Ski and Snowboard World Championships clashed with the X-Games last month splitting the fields.
What is the main thing UK Sport will be looking to see from winter sports in 2015?
We want to see across the board that sports are thinking clearly about what it takes to win in order to be progressing towards the podium in Pyeongchang. We want them to be planning a clear strategy to deliver that, and have an operational plan to make it happen on the ground. If those things are in place alongside the right level of athlete performances, we’re going to be confident and assured that there’s a good chance of a return on the investment in three years’ time in Pyeongchang.
Take a look at the 2015 Milestone Targets for UK Sport National Lottery funded winter sports >