Yorkshire athletes dominate GB team for Sochi

Shelley Rudman
Shelley Rudman
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Great Britain is to send one of its largest ever teams to a Winter 
Olympics with Yorkshire once again at the heart of the nation’s medal challenge.

Eleven athletes will represent the White Rose county in Sochi from February 7-23 out of a British team of 56.

That equates to nearly 20 per cent of the country’s athletes either from here or living and training in the Broad Acres.

The county enjoyed a similar spread for the Summer Games in London 18 months ago, with more than 10 per cent of the 550 home athletes representing Yorkshire in some shape or form.

On that occasion, the likes of Jessica Ennis, Alistair Brownlee and Nicola Adams rose to the occasion to win Olympic gold and there are a number with the White Rose at heart who could repeat the feat in the Russian Black Sea resort next month.

James Woods – one of five selected yesterday from Sheffield – leads a 13-strong ski and snowboard team across a multitude of disciplines from which medals are anticipated. UK Sport have set Team GB a target of three to seven medals in Sochi, which even at the bottom end of that scale is three times as many as this country traditionally wins.

Woods, 22, first took up the sport at Sheffield dry ski slopes and is currently the overall World Cup champion in slopestyle skiing, which is one of a number of X Games converts that debuts in Sochi.

Woods said: “I am always incredibly proud to represent the United Kingdom in everything I do and to be given the opportunity to go to the Winter Olympics to do just that is amazing.

“I will certainly put all my efforts into my performance, representing my country and representing the freeskiing culture.

“The UK has a brilliant team going to Sochi along with an incredible field of people to follow. I truly hope everyone reaches their huge potential.”

Katie Summerhayes, who like Woods learned to ski at the Sharks Ski Club in Sheffield, won a World Cup medal as recently as last weekend despite sitting out much of the build-up to Sochi due to reconstructive knee surgery.

Summerhayes said: “This is a dream come true and I can’t believe it’s happening.

“The last two years have been hard for me, so I just want to thank everyone who has supported me and helped me to get here.

“I can’t wait to get to Sochi both to compete and support the rest of the team.”

Joining those two medal hopes in the freestyle skiing stable of Bradford-born head coach Pat Sharples is Settle’s Katie Lonsdale and another talent from the Steel City, James Machon, who both compete in the halfpipe.

On the snowboarding side, Leeds-based Zoe Gillings – who had a portable start gate built to help her train – competes in her third Olympics in snowboard cross, while Bradford’s Jamie Nicholls and Leeds-born Dom Harington make their Olympic debuts after impressive World Cup campaigns.

Two gold-medal hopefuls in the skeleton moved to Sheffield in the build-up to the Vancouver Games in 2010 to harness the best engineering and technological minds to help them get an edge on their competitors.

Shelley Rudman won silver in Turin and goes into her third Olympics as the world champion. Her stiffest competition could come from World Cup leader and compatriot Lizzy Yarnold.

Rudman said: “My first Games in Turin in 2006 was a hugely positive experience for me, but Vancouver was disappointing after I just missed out on a medal.

“So going into Sochi I hope I will be able to merge all my experiences to give myself the best possible chance of success.”

Her partner Kristan Bromley contests his fourth Olympics at the age of 41. After winning every title going in the sport, an Olympic accolade is the only one to elude him.

“It is even more special for me because it is exactly 20 years to the month since the first time I tried skeleton,” said Bromley.

“To have remained at the top of the sport for that time gives me a wealth of experience to take to Sochi. Every Olympic campaign has been four years of hard work and has pushed me to raise my game going into each season.”

And the northern-most outposts of Yorkshire are represented by Thirsk bobsleigh rider John Baines, who is a communications specialist in the Royal Air Force.

The 28-year-old only qualified last week and will ride in the second sled. He said: “Last week was a true testament to the team; we all pulled together, coaches, staff and athletes to ensure we qualified two four-man sleds. I am looking forward to putting on my race suit, standing at the top of the track and racing for Team GB at the Olympics – that has always been my dream.”

For every happy recipient of life-changing news yesterday there were those who missed out.

Halifax’s freestyle skier James Harding has to wait another four years, as does Brighouse snowboarder Katie Ormerod, both of whom had been close to selection.

And Fiona Hughes, a cross-country skier from Huddersfield who competed in Vancouver, described her winter so far as the best of her career, yet it was not enough to make the team.

“I’m gutted,” she said. “I gave it everything, did my best, but it just wasn’t quite enough.”