How a lack of funding is killing Britain's luge hopes, while skeleton cashes in to win Olympic medals

Ben Bloom
The Telegraph
Adam Rosen finished 22nd in Pyeongchang, despite self-financing most of his career - REUTERS
Adam Rosen finished 22nd in Pyeongchang, despite self-financing most of his career - REUTERS

Last weekend, Adam Rosen bumped into a couple of his fellow luge athletes from a rival nation in the Olympic Village.

For more than a decade, Rosen has been at the forefront of Britain’s tiny luge programme and can legitimately lay claim to the title of the nation’s greatest ever luger.

But after only managing to finish 22nd in Pyeongchang, Rosen’s rivals were keen to make a point.

“They came up to me and said: ‘I looked at your sled and if anyone else had that they would never have been able to compete. If you had better equipment you could be right up there,” recalls Rosen.

“It’s nice that someone would say that, especially someone within the sport. But at the same time it leaves you thinking if only you had that equipment.”

Dressed in his Team GB tracksuit, Rosen is in relaxed mode after the stresses of competition and he displays a remarkable lack of bitterness while relaying his struggles over a coffee.

<span>Rosen is hoping to become a commercial airline pilot following his luge career</span> <span>Credit: PA </span>
Rosen is hoping to become a commercial airline pilot following his luge career Credit: PA

Soon to depart the largely forgotten – at least within Britain – world of luge to embark on a career as a commercial airline pilot, Rosen, 33, possesses no anger as he looks back on his sporting battle.

He, and many others within luge, believe that he could have won an Olympic medal at any of the three Winter Games he has competed at, but Rosen’s appeal for things to change comes only from a desire to ensure a better future for his fellow British sliders.

The figures are stark: while skeleton received £6.5 million and bobsleigh just over £5m in UK Sport funding over the four-year Olympic cycle leading up to Pyeongchang 2018, luge was not given a single penny.

It has long been this way. Funding himself through jobs in restaurants and a friend’s used-car dealership, Rosen has almost wholly self-financed his passion while making do with what he can.

Indeed, his career-best sixth-place World Cup finish in 2009 came on a pair of rejected Canadian runners that one of his rivals had lent him.

“It just shows how much equipment really matters and if we don’t have access to it, we’re starting behind everyone else,” he says. “In that aspect it is frustrating.

“I feel like with the right equipment I could have been up there.

“We are at the ceiling. Without someone who can provide technical knowledge and sled development it’s going to be so difficult to progress.”

Winter Olympics 2018: Best pictures from South Korea's PyeongChang games
Winter Olympics 2018: Best pictures from South Korea's PyeongChang games

The irony is that Team GB have found themselves on the exact opposite side of the technology debate at these Olympics.

Coming into Pyeongchang with skeleton athletes Laura Deas ranked seventh in the world, Lizzy Yarnold ninth and Dom Parsons 12th, all three will leave with medals after benefiting from what double Olympic champion Yarnold called “a real British engineering story of success.”

Millions of pounds have been spent on reaping minute advantages from aerodynamic suits and helmets to runners and sleds, all aimed at peaking for the Olympics. The results have yielded more skeleton medals than any other nation.

It is not something that has been universally accepted by many in the sport, with New Zealander Rhys Thornbury comparing skeleton to Formula One and stating that “it is all about equipment.”

While that does not give fair credit to the brilliance of the British sliders, Latvia’s skeleton coach Zintis Ekmanis insists Britain has benefited from an “unfair” technical advantage which “is killing the sport.”

Rosen would love the opportunity to do the same. Travelling without a coach or any support staff for most of the season, he looks enviously at the likes of Germany with their wind tunnel testing, multitude of technical personnel and BMW-designed sled.

<span>Rosen says his sport is in 'a Catch-22' situation with its lack funding</span> <span>Credit: REUTERS </span>
Rosen says his sport is in 'a Catch-22' situation with its lack funding Credit: REUTERS

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to the funding conundrum. UK Sport, the body that dishes out money to Olympic sports, say that Rosen’s 22nd-place finish in Pyeongchang does not fulfill the criteria of displaying medal potential. But Rosen claims results will never improve without cash.

“Even £10,000 would be huge in our sport,” he says. “It really is a Catch-22 because you need the funding to get the results in the sport. But then you won’t get the funding unless you have the results.

“It’s such an uphill battle to find that initial bit of funding to push you past the point.”

Admirably, there is not a hint of indignation at the riches offered to his skeleton and bobsleigh team-mates, while Britain's lugers are forced to feed off the scraps and rely on public donations to even compete at international events.

Even this week, 16 young British skeleton hopefuls will head to Innsbruck, Austria, for a UK Sport-funded training camp as part of the organisation’s Talent ID programme. But Rosen harbours no resentment, instead opting to use Britain’s skeleton success as proof that the model does work.

“Even if we had one-tenth of their programme that would be amazing,” he says. “But I don’t take it personally.

“Skeleton have managed to create this programme, which is second to none. They really have everything.

“I feel we could learn off what they have because there’s no reason why can’t be up there with the best in the world.

“If we follow their route then we could be dominating all the sliding sports.”

For now that looks unlikely. While their skeleton and bobsleigh siblings reap the rewards, Britain’s luge athletes remain the runt of the litter.

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