At the Chamonix Games of 1924, Team GB set its highest ever medal total of four at a Winter Olympics.
Four years ago in Sochi they matched it and, pending an appeal from the Russian Olympic Federation, a fifth medal looks to be on its way in the form of the bronze denied to the men’s bobsleigh team.
This year Team GB have been set a target of five medals outright by UK Sport in a bid to turn the country into a force in winter sport.
Mike Hay, the (incredibly named) chef de mission for Team GB both in Sochi and for the delegation in South Korea this time around, is the man tasked with making this whole process come together – cooking up success, if you will.
Far from not being able to handle the heat of the kitchen (I’ll stop), he remains cool in the face of expectation as Team GB have a number of excellent medal contenders.
After the heroics of some of the team four years ago, Hay is feeling optimistic that the squad could eclipse the 96-year-old record.
“I think it’s doable,” he said. “I think we’ve got enough athletes across enough disciplines to suggest that we could do that.
“Elise Christie, she’s a double world champion so you’d been remiss from putting any more pressure on her, she’s one of our big hopes, obviously. In curling the Muirheads did pretty well this year; it’s by no means a lock-on medal but I think if these girls play well they should definitely get into the semi-finals and then who knows?
“And up in the sliding centre, Lizzy Yarnold has come back into a bit of form but Laura Deas also in the women’s skeleton offers an opportunity.”
Coming back into form might be generous when describing Yarnold – who many had regarded as Britain’s best hope for a medal. She finished a disappointing ninth in this year’s IBSF rankings, two places below compatriot Laura Deas, but Hay isn’t worried about the reigning Olympic champion.
“She would be the first to admit her form wasn’t where she wanted it to be,” he said. “I know they’ve been working hard, I spoke to Andi Schmidt [Team Leader for Skeleton] last week on his way back from Konigssee and he thinks things are coming together nicely.
“Had she not found her form in the last couple of World Cups, I think in all honesty it would be unlikely that she could get onto the podium. But we’ve all got a bit of hope now she’s got her form back.
“She beat the Germans on their home track [in the second run in Connigsee] and they won’t have that home advantage out in Pyeongchang. It’s a fairly new track for everyone so it will be a bit of a leveller – that’s what I’m hoping for anyway.”
While breaking the medal record obviously rests heavy on his mind, Hay is keen to stress that there is more to this Winter Olympics than those who end up on podiums.
“I want all the athletes to do well,” he said. “I’m not just focusing on ones with a medal opportunity. There are other athletes that you want to beat their personal bests and to do better than any other Brit has done before. That is important to become a credible winter sport nation.”
Even more important than GB entering the realms of winter sport credibility is the scope that these games have to make a genuine impact on our extremely volatile world.
As North Korea and South Korea have seemingly begun a dialogue over the North Koreans sending a delegation to the games, the impact that sport in general can have is not lost on Hay.
“I think it [North Korea’s participation] is absolutely a good thing,” he said. “I’m not saying the threat has gone away but you saw some of the warming of relations with a North Korean delegation coming over the DNZ to speak to South Korea.
“I’m in agreement that it would be great; they would probably march together for the opening ceremony as well, so it is definitely welcome.
“As a symbol it’s pretty powerful – something powerful that the Olympics can do that a number of politicians have failed to do in the past so that’s a great sign for us. That’s probably the reason why we’ve never been for boycotting any events – it doesn’t do any good.”
Despite the seemingly positive influence the games are having on that particular region of the world, Hay does concede he’d like to see another Winter Olympics in more traditional surroundings.
Sochi’s drawbacks were well documented with tropical temperatures and artificial snow and after Pyeongchang, the Winter Olympics heads to Beijing in 2022 to complete an unprecedented run of three consecutive Olympics (winter and summer) all in the same continent.
“Beijing will be an interesting one,” Hay said. “Between the ice events and the snow events, it will be hugely logistically challenging. There’s no doubt it is extremely expensive for the European nations to have three games in Asia as well – it makes it frustrating.
“It would be nice to come back into the strong Winter Olympic countries but ultimately there were only two countries that bid – there was Kazakhstan and China left for 2022. But it’s great for Asia – there’s a huge interest in winter sport which maybe wasn’t there before so there’s some real benefits for them.”
Hay acknowledges that the part he played in the remarkable medal haul in Sochi four years only increases the difficulty of reaching his targets this time around, but with the brutal nature of winter sports, it is easy to see why he doesn’t get too hung up on material rewards.
“It [the medal haul in Sochi] makes it tougher this time around,” he admits. “There is a lot of jeopardy in winter sport as you know. Mo Farah fell in the final of the 10,000 and got up and won but if Elise Christie falls in the final of the 500 she ain’t getting up and winning. That’s just the nature of it.
“We obviously have a lot less guys that can challenge for medals so it’s important they stay fit and reach some form come the beginning of the games.
“We’ve clearly been set a target of at least five and it would be nice to think we could do it. But it’s no picnic trying to win a medal at the Olympic games. It’s tough and we’ll have to perform really well to reach it.”
featured image credit: Wikimedia Commons