Britain's Winter Olympic chiefs insist record medal haul can act as springboard as debate rises over millions spent

Ben Bloom
The Telegraph
Laura Deas (left) and Lizzy Yarnold (right) won bronze and gold in the Skeleton - Getty Images AsiaPac
Laura Deas (left) and Lizzy Yarnold (right) won bronze and gold in the Skeleton - Getty Images AsiaPac

Britain’s Olympic chiefs believe their record medal haul in Pyeongchang can serve as a springboard for future success in the same way that Sydney 2000 catapulted Team GB to the upper echelons of the Summer Games medal table.

Lizzy Yarnold’s skeleton gold led a haul of five medals in South Korea to improve on their four-medal tally from Sochi 2014.

Britain reached a low point of just one gold at the Atlanta 1996 Summer Olympics, prompting the creation of UK Sport to invest National Lottery money into sports federations. The success of that system saw Team GB rise to second in the medal table at Rio 2016.

Despite an increased debate over the value of investing many millions into sports that the majority of people do not participate in, British Olympics bosses believe these Pyeongchang Games can serve as a landmark moment for both medals won and participation numbers.

“We are reading reports back in the UK around snow domes and snow centres, and inspiring kids to go and book them, with bookings going through the roof,” said Bill Sweeney, British Olympic Association chairman.

<span>Billy Morgan won snowboarding bronze</span> <span>Credit: GETTY IMAGES </span>
Billy Morgan won snowboarding bronze Credit: GETTY IMAGES

“I read a figure, we have something like eight million snowboarders and skiers doing it on an annual basis, so we think there is a really strong culture around it worth investing in and we have proven we can be competitive with the best in the world across multiple sports.

“We are walking away from here – if you equate this to Summer Games and equate it to 1996 and improvement through 2000 – we are starting on that journey.

“We see some real potential here to inspire kids and continue to compete strongly.”

Sweeney also defended the £28.35 million spent on winter sports in the four-year cycle leading up to the Pyeongchang Games, arguing that putting a price on each medal is a “one-dimensional” way of looking at it.

“I think it is a shame when the conversation goes straight to ‘that medal cost X’ and ‘what impact does that have on the country’,” he said.

“Lizzy Yarnold’s performance – how many women, kids, male and female has she inspired to get out and do something, challenge themselves?

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

“It might not be skeleton. I think it is a bit one-dimensional that conversation of ‘that sport costs X for that medal’.”

Billy Morgan and Izzy Atkin broke new ground for Britain in Pyeongchang, becoming the country’s first man and woman to win Olympic medals on snow as Britain finished 19th in the overall medal table.

Mike Hay, Team GB chef de mission, says greater success across different sports is vital if Britain is going to achieve its aim of becoming a top-15 nation.

“We are trying to become a credible winter sport nation,” he said. “To do that we need to win medals over a range of sports.

“Trying to break into the top 15 remains our target. We need a couple of golds, maybe three.

“You want to go on a rising trajectory of course. We feel we have individuals who can win gold – skeleton is a strong sport for us and other sports will have learnt.

“It isn’t easy to come here and every year we are asked to make history. There is a point in time when you can’t do that, but we still have a lot of headroom in winter sport to do that right now.”

What to read next