For Team GB, there was always an Achilles heel. Dan Hunt, boss of Britain’s skiers and snowboarders, had warned that with athletes throwing themselves 20 feet in the air, the team’s ambitions rested on people actually making it to the start line fully fit.
On Thursday, Katie Ormerod reduced the team’s medal potential when she suffered a fractured heel after falling during a practice run. The 20-year-old was being touted as a possible podium finisher in both snowboard slopestyle and big air.
Without Ormerod, the medal target of five to 10 set by UK Sport is tighter to attain but the organisation’s chair, Katharine Grainger, remained bullish.
“Katie was definitely one of our medal hopes,” said Grainger, who has experienced her own Olympic heartache although each time still having made it to the start line.
“Her health is the priority but the great thing is she has always come back stronger from injuries. And she is at a young enough age that she still has a long enough career ahead of her. But we have a strong team across many sports and still hope for some great performances.”
Ormerod’s withdrawal drops the GB contingent down to 58 athletes, less than a sixth of the team that travelled to Rio de Janeiro.
Britain has not habitually been a Winter Olympic nation, and the haul of four medals from Sochi was the best-ever attained from the 22 Games to date. However, there are still reasons for optimism.
In Lizzy Yarnold, Britain has a defending champion in the skeleton. Although her results have not been in the league of her dominant 2014 season, the arrival of the cutting-edge race suits on the eve of racing means there is a confidence she can force her way onto the podium.
She is grasping the different sensation that “it’s okay to be the underdog”. She is ranked ninth in the world and not even the No1 Brit here, with that honour falling to Laura Deas. Their cause is also aided by Russian rival Elena Nikitina’s unsuccessful appeal to compete.
While Yarnold shone in Sochi, short track speed skater Elise Christie sunk without a trace but is adamant the demons are heeled. On paper, she is Britain’s best hope for an individual title.
Much like the Yarnold of 2014, Christie has made it clear it is gold or broke for her, another high-risk venture for the team so tight are the margins for error on the ice.
“Going for gold is very different to going for a medal in short track but it’s the gold I want,” she said.
Vying with the Scot for the most plausible golden honours are yet more Scots in Team Muirhead, the curlers headed by Eve Muirhead and recently crowned European champions.
Since her Sochi bronze, Muirhead says not a day has passed where she has not thought of the potential missed opportunity for gold. As she put it: “I’m doing everything to get to the top of the podium”.
But once again the Canadians are the sport’s dominant force, so too in the men’s event where Muirhead’s brothers, Glenn and Thomas, also compete for Britain.
On the snow, Dave Ryding faces one of the most stacked events in the men’s slalom but, having finished runner-up at the notoriously tough Kitzbuhel course previously and with this course apparently suiting him, he has an outside bet of a medal.
Another man eyeing a spot on the podium is Jamie Nicholls in the snowboard slopestyle, the final of which is on Sunday.
The two British teams in the men’s four-man bobsleigh can realistically have the podium in their sights, while Andrew Musgrave, who at Sochi said he had skied like “a tranquillized badger”, will have a similar outlook. Fourth at last year’s World Championships and a podium finisher already this season, his best bet comes in the 15-kilometre freestyle.
Data sports specialists Gracenote has predicted just two medals for GB — both from Christie, hardly worthy of £28million in funding, double of that for the previous Olympic cycle. But the British team are bullish it will be considerably more.
DFS is proud to continue its support of Team GB as the official homeware partner, bringing the joy of comfort to Team GB athletes throughout 2018 and beyond.