Laughton: Full strength Olympic skeleton team still ambition
December 20, 2013 14:53 pm
British hopes of taking a full and unprecedented compliment of six skeleton sliders to next year's Winter Olympics remain on a knife-edge.
Team performance director Nigel Laughton has always insisted it would be a stretch target to qualify the maximum three men and women for Sochi.
But with Lizzy Yarnold and Shelley Rudman ranked number one and two in the women's world rankings as the season heads into the Christmas break, there is no shortage of cautious confidence amongst the squad.
Rose McGrandle has been drafted in for decisive New Year races at Winterburg, St Moritz and Igls, after three podiums in four races on skeleton's second tier circuit.
But Laughton knows it will be tough to break down some of the sport's established powerhouse nations.
"Only two countries can take three women to the Olympics and, at the moment, the standings are very, very tight," he said.
"Obviously we are in a good position with Lizzy and Shelley ranked number one and two but the key is the third slider.
"We are currently fourth with our third athlete, but there are very few points between second and fourth. There is virtually nothing points wise between Canada, Russia and us, with Germany out at the front.
"To be honest, it is a staggering testament to our programme that we even are in the mix to take three sliders to the Olympics.
"It's a very big challenge to get in the top two nations. I don't think Rose will feel any additional pressure, she puts a lot of pressure on herself to deliver anyway. But the prize is enormous for us as a team and her as an individual.
"We've always been confident that we will be competitive next year. We know what we need to do and the athletes are more than capable.
"But there is no point dreaming about Sochi if you are not going to get there."
However, Laughton admits it will be tougher to take a full quota of men. Dominic Parsons is currently ranked seventh in the world but former world champion Kristan Bromley and team trials winner Ed Smith have struggled during recent races in north America.
"We've had some up and down results and we are bit behind the curve to qualify a third men's place for Sochi. It's going to be very difficult, but it's not impossible," he said.
"We are not out of it but it's certainly tougher now than it was at the beginning of the season.
"It's still possible and it won't be for a lack of effort. It would be a simply remarkable achievement to go with six athletes."
David Swift's performance on the Intercontinental Cup circuit rank him ahead of Smith - who has struggled to break the top 20 at recent World Cups - but, unlike McGrandle, he has not been promoted for the crucial four remaining races before the qualifying window shuts.
"David is sliding well but he's not done enough to go up and the selection policy gives us clear guidance on what the committee can and can't do," added Laughton.
"Simply David needed to do more with his results to get the swap over to happen and it just hasn't been possible."
© Sportsbeat 2013