Winter Youth Olympics: Clive Woodward hails GB showing

By Nick HopeBBC Olympic sports reporter

Sir Clive Woodward insists that the experiences of British athletes at the Winter Youth Olympic Games will help them maximise their potential.

Woodward, Team GB's chef de mission, oversaw three medals - one gold and two silvers - in Austria.

"It's been a great week," the England Rugby World Cup winning coach said.

"They've been mixing with athletes from different countries, competing against the best in their age group and this will really help them in the future."

Woodward told BBC Sport: "Bobsleigh did really well [with silver on the final day], but other sports had fourths and fifths, and all 24 athletes, without exception, had a fantastic time."

Before the Games, in Innsbruck, Austria, Woodward had insisted there were no medal targets for Team GB, but coaches in several sports had claimed their athletes had podium potential.

Great Britain's curlers boasted a team considered among the strongest in the competition, but they failed to reach the knockout phase, although their team leader Brad Askew insisted positives could still be taken from their performances.

In the freestyle skiing, British halfpipe champion Katie Summerhayes finished a creditable fifth in her event and despite the discovery of a World War II bomb just minutes away from the competition venue, Katherine Gale remained calm and only narrowly missed out on a medal in the skills competition.

Bobsleigh did deliver though - on the same track where GB's seniors won their only Olympic gold medal to date, 48 years ago.

Their performance director Gary Anderson explained before the Games that "medals traditionally mean money", so he was understandably delighted after Mica McNeill and Jazmin Sawyers secured silver.

"We're unbelievably proud. These girls have been working so hard for this and we're absolutely delighted," Anderson told BBC Sport.

"It's a hugely expensive sport - we need £50-60,000 per year just to get these guys on the ice.

"We have some very generous sponsors, which helps us considerably, but there's always a little bit more that we're looking for."

UK Sport provides bobsleigh with £2.4m of funding for its senior women's team in the four-year Olympic cycle leading to the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.

Owing to imposed restrictions on its use, the money only has a minimal benefit to the junior athletes, but Anderson hopes that could change for some of the Innsbruck Olympians.

"We've already started planning [for Sochi] and both Mica [McNeill] and Jaz [Sawyers] can now start pushing the seniors," he said.

"We have funding places up for grabs in the summer and both girls have thrown their hats into the ring."

For Sawyers, that could prove something of a dilemma.

The 17-year-old also competes as a heptathlete for Great Britain, qualifying for both World and Commonwealth junior events in the past 18 months.

"Winning a silver medal is amazing, but yes it makes things a whole lot tougher," admitted Sawyers.

"It's a decision that I know is coming and I don't want to have to make it."

Great Britain's other two medals came in a newly created event, the mixed-team short-track speed skating relay.

Competing alongside athletes from China and Korea, Jack Burrows became Great Britain's first Olympic medallist of 2012, with team-mate Aydin Djemal taking silver.

"It means so much to me," Burrows said. "I can now train even harder and look at that medal for motivation."

GB Youth Olympic short-track team manager Joanna Eley was impressed with how Burrows, 14, and Djemal, 15, coped in the event, considering how little time they are able to spend training on the ice.

"Compared to the rest of Europe we don't get much time, it's quite expensive and a lot of the clubs here are quite small and can't afford to buy more [ice time].

"Aydin, probably out of everyone in the competition, has the least amount of time available to train, [just a couple of hours per week], so for him to be able to compete with those training four times more often is really encouraging," Eley said.

For Burrows and Djemal, like many of Great Britain's Youth Olympians, the next senior Games are likely to come a little too soon for them to make the step up.

However, many of them will be expected to be in the team for Pyeongchang, South Korea 2018.

"If someone has got a talent to excel and show off our country on a world stage, I think we should go out of our way to make sure they are funded properly and make sure they are successful," said Woodward.

Reflecting on his own role at Innsbruck 2012, he added: "I've loved it.

"The Olympics is such a wonderful and powerful event and I think it's fantastic. Roll on another four years for the next one in Lillehammer."

You can learn more about the GB athletes in the BBC's 'British Olympic Dreams - Winter Youth Olympic special' on Saturday 28 January, 1300 GMT on BBC One.

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