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Eagle and Drake soar off to Canada

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Ollie Williams | 09:45 UK time, Friday, 20 November 2009

The winter season is now going strong, and athletes all over the world have a chance to show that their Winter Olympic ambitions are more than just talk.

It is up to the GB team to prove, as the Winter Olympics is threatened with relegation from UK TV's free-to-air list, that the British public have plenty to get excited about from their sofas come February.

Last week, Eleanor Oldroyd suggested one reason to watch: the propensity for Winter Olympic events to go horribly, entertainingly, wrong. As she was writing that, British skeleton's Kristan Bromley produced another reason: the chance of a GB gold medal in Vancouver, having fought his way to bronze in the first World Cup event of the season.

This blog isn't just about reasons to watch in February, but also what to watch now (and where to watch it), how things like events and qualifying work, and the latest on the British team's Olympic hopes.

Eddie the Eagle and Ed DrakeEd and Eddie - Drake (right) and Edwards, faces of Britain at the Winter Olympics

Some will cringe at the mere mention of his name, but Eddie the Eagle is not only heading back to Canada, he has even survived a gruelling selection process this time around.

If you're younger than 25 you may not remember the sight of Michael Edwards' legendary, unsuccessful attempts to conquer the ski jump on behalf of Britain at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

The courage and determination of Edwards - who can't even claim to be Cheltenham's finest Olympic export, let alone Britain's, given he shares a home town with rowing gold medallist Zac Purchase - allied to a complete absence of skill, made him superb viewing for most people.

But that view was not shared by fellow skiers and the governing body, who did not enjoy being made to look stupid and subsequently altered the qualification rules to stop a repeat performance.

However, the Eagle will soar again in Winnipeg on 7 January, when Eddie takes part in the Olympic torch relay. He has even made it through a cull of international participants in which double Olympic figure skating champion Katarina Witt and tennis player Nicolas Kiefer were dropped. One of those taking their place is Sir Matthew Pinsent who, we're proud to say, will be part of BBC Sport's reporting team throughout the Winter Olympics.

Eddie spoke to BBC Gloucestershire last year, remembering his Calgary appearance 20 years on - and Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films) is rumoured to be portraying Edwards in a forthcoming movie.

Not that you should associate Britain with endearingly abject failure these days. For 2010, we've even got an Eddie or two with medals in mind: British skier Ed Drake has started his season with a podium finish at the Europa Cup in the Austrian resort of Reiteralm.

Drake told BBC Radio 5 live he's thrilled with the way his career is heading as Vancouver 2010 looms.

"When you turn up at the big races it's the crowd and the expectation you put on yourself that elevates your performance to a different level," he said.

"My qualification is going well, I'm on track. I've pre-qualified but the list doesn't come out until 18 January."

Results are still vital for Drake to build his confidence and establish his place in the British pecking order (he came 20th in the next race, the following day). But he has actually already met the GB team's qualification criteria for Vancouver 2010, as have several others.

In fact, the third-place finish in Austria doesn't do much to Drake's chances overall. For example, his FIS points score (FIS being the governing body), on which rankings are based, will not change. In skiing the aim is to have as few points as possible, and your ranking score is the average of your two best scores over the past year or so. Drake scored 11.89 in Reiteralm, which isn't as good as his two top scores of 9.58 and 10.07, so his average of 9.83 remains unchanged.

What will affect his Vancouver chances is how all the Brits perform. The GB team are waiting to find out how many quota places they have earned - in other words, how many men and women Britain can send to the Winter Olympics.

Ed DrakeDrake is likely to face selection trials for the GB team in January

The likelihood is there will be more athletes who meet the criteria than quota places available - my understanding is Britain can expect five places, with seven qualified athletes. So British organisers will hold a national selection trial early in 2010 to decide who gets to go. Drake's fate, along with that of his team-mates, will be sealed there.

In the meantime, though, his next big event is the next World Cup stage at Lake Louise, in Canada. Keep an eye on that from Wednesday, 25 November to Sunday, 29 November. Follow the GB team's progress on the Snowsport GB website.

Drake is an Alpine skier, while Huddersfield teenager Fiona Hughes, who won a junior freestyle cross-country skiing race in Sweden last week, is edging closer to reaching the qualification standard in Nordic skiing.

Winning her 10km race earned Hughes the additional (some would say more enjoyable) prize of a basket of local Swedish delicacies, including smoked reindeer meat, cheese and sausage. If somebody had told me that's how skiers earned their keep, I'd have abandoned ice hockey and headed for the piste long ago.

British number one Andrew Musgrave, from Aberdeenshire, starts his Nordic season in just a couple of days' time in Norway. Saturday sees the men's senior World Cup get under way and his coach, Roy Young, is in buoyant mood about British chances.

"I predict we will make history this winter with the best season the British Nordic ski team has ever had," said Young, who looks set to guide GB to their first appearance in the Nordic events at a Winter Olympics for eight years.

BBC Scotland's Katie Still spoke to Young on a visit to the ski club where British hopefuls are training.

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The next few weeks will be busy for the BBC team, too. I'll be up in Sheffield on Friday, 27 November to see top figure skaters in action at the British Championships. Tickets are still available if you want to see the likes of top GB duo John and Sinead Kerr for yourself, or you can pay to watch online - there are more details on the governing body's own website.

The Kerrs have been dominant in British figure skating for many years and can hope for a medal when they reach Vancouver. They placed second in the figure skating Grand Prix in Japan earlier this month, behind American pair Meryl Davis and Charlie White. I'll be talking to them in depth on Friday, an interview you'll be able to watch on our website - so if you have any questions you want me to put to them, let me know.

Joining the Kerrs on the plane to Canada will be Coleraine skating star Jenna McCorkell, who spoke to the BBC earlier this week.

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Also coming up are the European Curling Championships in Aberdeen (sponsored by Gruyère cheese, which again raises hopes of a basket of savoury delights for the winner). International winter sports events at this level are incredibly rare in Britain, simply because it's not often we have the facilities, let alone the global reputation. But Scotland's curlers have long been among the world's finest, and Britain famously took women's curling gold at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

We'll bring you the best from those events and don't forget Ski Sunday resumes on Sunday, 13 December, with highlights from the next round of skiing's World Cup, which you can watch live on the red button or online across that weekend. Remember, you can follow me on Twitter too for the latest updates.

If you're trying to stay on top of all things Winter Olympic before the Games begin, I'll be back in a couple of weeks with another update. In the meantime, if you missed the last one, it's here. Any questions about the events, the athletes or our coverage? Let me know and I'll get an answer for you.

UPDATE - 0907 GMT, 21 November: GB's Shelley Rudman claimed silver in her second skeleton World Cup race, a few hours after I'd written this, so Britain already has World Cup medals from both its skeleton men and women this season.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Ollie,

    First off thank for all your coverage on the Winter Olympics - its great!

    Can you please let me know the BBC's TV schedule of the Ice Hockey coverage? I hope it is on TV - I will be glued to it!

    Thanks.

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi Chris - we don't have confirmed broadcast times yet but as soon as we do, I'll let you know, and they'll be available via our website.

    The ice hockey schedule on the Vancouver 2010 website is here, with the women's final at 2330 GMT on Thursday, 25 February and the men's final at 2015 GMT on Sunday, 28 February. The men's final, in particular, is at a useful time for UK-based viewers.

    I'd like to think both those games, and a selection of others, will be available at least via red button and online if not on live terrestrial television. But no promises until the full BBC schedule is revealed as there are plenty of considerations and other sports vying for airtime.

  • Comment number 3.

    Well the one thing that's unlikely to go wrong at the Olympics now is lack of snow.

    They've just broken all records for November snow, with further falls this week expected, so short of a prolonged early spring, conditions will be excellent.

  • Comment number 4.

    It's good to see the BBC spending the licence fee on Winter Olympic experts like Sir Matthew Pinsent for their coverage.

    I look forward to his insightful analysis of the coxless bobsleigh.

    Whatever next, Gary Lineker covering the golf . . . . . er hang on . . .

  • Comment number 5.

    I'd like to think both those games, and a selection of others, will be available at least via red button and online if not on live terrestrial television.

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

 

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