The ghosts of Winter Olympics past are starting to rattle for Britain’s campaign in Beijing. After missing out on medals in the mixed curling and snowboard cross earlier in the week, there was more disappointment on Thursday as Team GB’s men proved to be way off the pace in the skeleton.
Traditionally Britain have rarely won more than the odd medal at Winter Games, but in Sochi in 2014 and Pyeongchang four years ago they made a record-equalling five trips to the podium. That haul was significantly helped by the skeleton, which has provided the backbone of Team GB’s success in recent Games.
However the tech superiority over their rivals, which propelled them to golds in Vancouver, Sochi and Pyeongchang, did not appear evident at the Yanqing National Sliding Centre.
Halfway through the event, which concludes on Friday lunchtime in the UK, Matt Weston and Marcus Wyatt sit 13th and 17th respectively, well over a second off the pace set by the world champion, Christopher Grotheer of Germany.
Afterwards Weston was admirably honest as he admitted that he made “10 or 12 mistakes” on a track he described as really tough. “Normally if you make a mistake on a track you might lose a couple of hundredths, maybe a tenth of a second,” he added. “You make a mistake here and it’s like half a second here, half a second there, so it’s really punishing.”
Meanwhile Wyatt remained upbeat despite being nearly two seconds back. “I was pretty happy with the run quality, two fairly consistent runs,” he said. “They weren’t the greatest I’ve ever done but not the worst.”
Nonetheless questions are bound to be raised if no one in the skeleton, which has received more than £6m in funding from UK Sport in the build up to these Beijing Games, comes close to the podium. And the signs are not encouraging in the women’s event either, with neither 2018 bronze medallist Laura Dees or Brogan Crowley having troubled the top 10 in their training runs.
Elsewhere there was also frustration for Britain’s sole representative in the men’s snowboard cross, Huw Nightingale, after he went out in the first round.
The 20-year-old, who will compete with Charlotte Bankes in the mixed team competition on Saturday, admitted: “It was not what I had planned, but sometimes it goes well and sometimes it goes not go so well. I was too far off the pack, they were drafting each other and I just couldn’t get behind them.”
However, at least Team GB men’s curlers were able to raise the spirits as Bruce Mouat led the team to a 7-5 victory over Italy in the first match of the group stage.
In a high-quality match, Mouat and teammates Grant Hardie, Bobby Lammie and Hammy McMillan were behind early before coming through.
“It was a wee bit of a slow start and they got a good two in the first end. That kind of put us on the back foot early, but we stuck together and played a lot of really good shots,” said Mouat.
Earlier in the day GB’s women curlers missed the chance to win a tight match against Switzerland, losing 6-5 when Eve Muirhead’s attempt to draw the winning shot slid just past the button. But they bounced back beat Olympic champions Sweden 8-2 later in the evening.