CRAIG NELSON: My hat goes off to Team GB's winter olympians

Team GB skier Chemmy Alcott

Team GB skier Chemmy Alcott

First published in Sport

TEAM GB named their strongest Winter Olympic squad in decades this week as they prepared for next month’s Games in Sochi, Russia.

And I for one have to take my hat off to the 56 athletes – the biggest British contingent since the Calgary Games in 1988 – who have been deemed worthy enough to compete on the world stage.

Apart from maybe curling, which is widely played in Scotland, most of the chosen few picked to represent Great Britain have no real right to be able to hold their own on the international arena.

Facilities may be improving in this country, but the British Isles still lag way behind countries in terms of a few vital ingredients for winter sports – like snow, ice and mountains.

I once did an interview with Team GB’s leading women’s downhill skier, Chemmy Alcott, at the place where her love of the sport was born.

Now don’t get me wrong, the view over Sandown racecourse from the top of the dry ski slope in Esher was very nice, but you could barely get out of second gear before reaching the foot of the biggest run.

Compare that to the vast network of competition-standard black runs in Alpine countries like France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy and you can see why our skiers start at a distinct disadvantage.

I lived in the French Alps for a season and saw at close hand children as young as three flitting around the slopes as if they were born to ski.

As soon as they are old enough to walk, sometimes even before that, they are putting on their first set of skis and let loose.

Watching the ski schools, it seemed cruel to me at first, like throwing a child in the water and leaving them to sink or swim.

But while parents in the UK spend all their time trying to protect their little darlings from danger, in the Alps they are taught to embrace it, and it works.

Every child I saw bombing down the black runs did so without fear, I think I probably had stored up their share of it.

And that lack of fear is essential when it comes to careering down a steep hill on two planks of wood with no brakes, especially if you want to reach the top of a sport in which serious injury always lurks down the next dip.

Which is why I take my hat off to the British team.

In many ways, it must take even more guts to do what they do – to re-programme their fear sensors as adults to take on the challenges they face.

Chemmy travels to Russia with the chance to claim a third successive top 20 place at the Winter Olympics just months after breaking her leg for the third time.

Bravery doesn’t even begin to describe it.

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