The coaches behind our Pyeongchang medal hopefuls
The Winter Olympics are in full-swing, and Team GB is already making its mark on the snow and ice with Elise Christie through to the 500m speed skating quarter-finals and Andrew Musgrave producing the best performance by a Briton in an Olympic cross-country event by finishing seventh in the men’s skiathlon.
For those who don’t know the British Olympic Association has taken its largest ever contingent to a Winter Olympics with 59 athletes competing for Team GB at Pyeongchang 2018.
Britain is being represented in 11 out of 15 winter sports; alpine skiing, biathlon, bobsleigh, cross-country skiing, curling, figure skating, freestyle skiing, luge, short track speed skating, skeleton and snowboarding. And our athletes will be vying to match UK Sport’s medal target of at least five medals.
More than several (in-form) GB athletes have been earmarked by the British press as medal hopefuls. Behind each of these athletes (and the 50 odd others for that matter) are the all-important support staff and coaches – there to corral emotions, sharpen instincts and give our athletes the best possible chance of success.
Here are their stories.
GB's Elise Christie (left) sits with her coach Nicky Gooch. Photograph: ©SkySports (accessed 12/02/2018)
Fighting the corner of our short-track speed skating star Elise Christie, who became triple world champion in 2017, is Nicky Gooch
A former GB short-track skater between 1989 and 2002 and four-time winter Olympian, Nicky was in fact the first Brit to win an Olympic speed skating medal of any colour, winning bronze in the men’s 500m at the 1994 Games in Lillehammer.
He became national coach of the GB short track team in 2006 until 2010 when he took over the role of head coach.
Nicky and Elise have appeared at two Olympics together so far; Vancouver in 2010 and Sochi in 2014. The latter was a little bit of a disaster for Elise, finding herself disqualified from the final of the 500m, the semi-final of the 1000m and the semi-final of the 1500m.
During the 500m, a collision with Italy’s Arianna Fontana, which had sent the two athletes spinning off the first corner, had also inadvertently caused South Korea’s Park Seung-hi to falter – losing her lead (and gold) to a bronze medal. Subsequently, Elise was dealt a slew of abhorrent online abuse, including death threats, from ‘internet trolls’, supposed fans of the Korean speed skater.
Naturally, her confidence was shot and future in the sport in doubt. Nicky and team, however, spent the last four years building Elise’s confidence back up, including hitting the trolls head on by making Elise go to South Korea to train. The experience paid off; Elise telling The Guardian that “It was one of the best experiences of my life so far.”
With worries partially quelled, Nicky worked on Elise’s strategy, supporting her to be more flexible with her race tactics. In an interview with Tom Adams at Eurosport.co.uk, Nicky said, “Elise is never happy and we are always trying to make improvements, but tactically has obviously been the big one.
“We have been strong enough and fast enough to win for a few years, so we have just been working on different strategies and basically understanding racing better so we make better choices. Sometimes it's also about putting yourself in a situation and finding the solutions to actually win a race and not just be at the front of a race and win from the front.”
With a renewed sense of herself and game plan, Nicky has put Elise in good stead to challenge for gold – And things have gotten off to a good start, Elise qualified for the 500m quarter-finals, smashing an Olympic record at the time of racing.
Next up is British snowboard team coach Hamish McKnight, who is coach to our snowboarding medal hopeful Katie Ormerod* – described as Britain’s best medal chance in Pyeongchang. *Unfortunately Katie Ormerod has had to pull out of the Olympics due to injury.
Hamish spent ten years carving out his own career as a professional snowboarder, cutting his teeth on the longest dry ski slope in Europe, situated near Hillend, Edinburgh before joining the British snowboarding set-up and masterminding the ‘Championship Ski & Snowboard’ league, which brings together the freestyle skiing and snowboarding community to represent their local snow sports centre.
As a supportive coach Hamish has nothing but praise for Katie’s work ethic, telling The Telegraph that, “There’s no doubt that Katie is one of the hardest-working athletes on the programme. She is the first person on the hill and the last to leave, and whenever Katie has the opportunity to do the best tricks in the world, given the weather or conditions, she does them 10 days out of 10.”
You can watch evidence of that on YouTube with footage of Katie nailing the world’s first female double cork 1080 (whatever that means), with Hamish on hand to help her through the process.
Sheffield’s freestyle skier and British medal hopeful, James ‘Woodsy’ Wood, describes his coach, Pat Sharples – who is also coach to GB’s youngest athlete at the games, Izzy Atkin – as his best friend, musing how strange it feels to call someone he’s known since he was 12, ‘coach’.
Pat is Team GB’s Park and Pipe Freeski Head Coach and renowned for his elite training of British freeski athletes. His (and fellow skiing coach, Warren Smith’s) ‘Freeski Training Camps’ and ‘Saloman Grom Camps’ have produced some of the country’s top professional skiers for over 15 years.
A former professional skier, Pat’s story is a unique one. Growing up near the dry slopes in the north of England he got into skiing at the age of seven. He then quit school at 16 and set off for the Alps where he hitch-hiked, slept rough and eventually got a job as a chalet helper. Five years later he’d made a name for himself on the moguls and early freestyle skiing scene. At one point he hoped to represent GB on the moguls at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano but injury forced him out. By setting up the training camps he was able to stay connected with the sport and subsequently worked as UK team manager for Salomon and Oakley. When freestyle skiing was added to the Winter Olympics in 2014 he was a natural choice as head coach.
In a BBC.co.uk article, business partner Warren Smith, describes Pat as a non-stop motivational guy, "It's that determination, the big smile, the positive chat on the worst of the worst days. I even have to do a double-take sometimes. Where Pat excels is the personal side. He knows when they are tired or need an emotional pick-up. He's their second parent, effectively."
Tristan Glasse-Davies is the British alpine men's head coach and lead coach to Dave Ryding, Britain’s alpine skiing king, whose second place in the 2017 world cup slalom at the Hahnenkamm race in Kitzbühel was the best British performance for 35 years.
Interestingly, Tristan and Dave were team-mates until the former quit racing at the age of 20. Moving into coaching, Tristan worked at the British Ski Academy before coaching the British team, first as an assistant speed coach then as Dave’s lead coach after the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010.
To boost Dave’s performances in the run up to Pyeongchang, Tristan figured that in order to catch up with the best in the world, Dave should up his training by making use of indoor snow centres to work on his technique. A move that makes perfect sense for the man who mastered the art of skiing on the dry slopes of Pendle, Lancashire.
Tristan’s success as a coach was most recently recognised at the 2017 UK Snowsports Coaching Awards, where he was awarded High Performance Coach of the Year for his achievement of being the first British coach to take a British athlete to be one of the top 10 in the world for alpine ski racing.
Britian’s flag bearer and defending skeleton champion, Lizzy Yarnold, is coached by American Eric Bernotas, a former skeleton racer, double-Olympian and world championship silver medallist.
Eric discovered the sport of skeleton – interestingly invented by the Brits – after he got lost and ended up at the Olympic Sliding Complex near Lake Placid, he would then go on to compete at two Winter Olympics, earning his best finish at Turin in 2006.
Trading the sleigh for coaching, Eric worked as head coach of the Australian skeleton team from 2011 to 2014 before coming to work with the British team.
Lizzy Yarnold describes her coach as having a deep respect and belief in all of his athletes.“Even when I'm not sure if I can do it, Eric is there giving me little nudges towards the start block,” Lizzy told BBC Sport.
Even when Lizzy was going through a dizzy spell during her 2015 season, not ideal when you’re hurtling down an ice chute at 90mph, Eric simply said: “Ride the wave Lizzy, it’ll come.”
GB Curling Head Coach Tony Zummack coaching GB skip Eve Muirhead prior to Pyeongchang 2018. Photograph: ©Tom J Brydone
To paraphrase Mr Zummack, the fuel, the passion and the drive of a coach is exactly the same as an athlete, it’s just a different canvas. And as head coach of the men’s and women’s British curling teams out in Pyeongchang, Tony will be hopefully be painting a masterpiece.
The women’s team, headed up by the tenacious Eve Muirhead, picked up a bronze at the 2014 Sochi Games and are current European champions. They’ll be looking to improve on their Olympic medal, and the men, whose skip, Kyle Smith, led them to a European silver in 2017, will be hoping to leave their mark on the competition too.
The Canadian coach’s own sporting life began as an ice hockey player before switching to curling. Noticing a distinct lack of technical and tactical knowledge that was coached in the sport of curling to that of ice hockey, motivated Tony to develop more effective coaching of the sport. In 2003 he became the Curling Director at Glencoe Club in Calgary and attended the National Coaching Institute at the University of Calgary.
In 2010 the level four coach then moved to Stirling, Scotland to take up a coaching position with sportscotland. In 2011 he worked with the British wheelchair curling team, who won a Paralympic bronze in Sochi 2014. A year later Tony took on the head coaching role for British Olympic curling.
Eve has been vocal about her quest to win a gold medal at Pyeongchang and certainly under Tony’s guidance at British Curling she is in good stead to achieve her dream. Tony’s underlying coaching ethos is more than just winning medals though, it’s also as he puts it about building better human beings. In our recent podcast interview with him he succinctly put it: “You need to recognise that these are human beings and the skills your teaching them while they might be relevant to sports are actually more relevant to building them up as better human beings, people who can take the lessons you’re helping them learn out of sport and back into the real world.”
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