UK’s winter athletes aim for a record Olympic medal haul

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Vicky Gosling has faced a number of challenges in her professional life, from serving in the Gulf War in 2003, to running the first overseas edition of Prince Harry’s Invictus Games for disabled military veterans.

But her new task – to increase Great Britain’s haul of snowsport medals at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, and make it a top five snowsport nation by 2030 – arguably surpasses those earlier demands.

The effervescent Merseysider is the chief executive of GB Snowsport, the national governing body for ski and snowboard disciplines.

“We are seeking to change the perspective of snowsport in the UK,” says the 49-year-old. “I always say anything is possible if you approach it in the right spirit.”

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GB Snowsport

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Gosling has seen GB Snowsport’s funding greatly increase

And Gosling, who rose to the role of Group Captain during 22 years’ service in the RAF, has been handed a major boost in her task by UK Sport, the national funding body for Olympic and Paralympic sport.

GB Snowsport has seen an increase in its Olympic funding from £5.2m in the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics funding cycle, to £11m for the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games cycle. For Paralympic funding, there has been a corresponding increase from £2.7m to up to £4.4m.

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Skier Izzy Atkin won one of Team GB’s two bronze medals at Pyeongchang in 2018

“This was way beyond our expectations,” says Gosling. “It’s been an amazing journey these past two years, it is a time of real excitement and expectation.

“Our primary objective is to win Olympic and Paralympic medals, and this investment gives us additional momentum and impetus.”

‘Shook things up’

The mother-of-three took over her role in the spring of 2018, and one of her first tasks was to change the title of the organisation from its former name of British Ski & Snowboard.

“It felt a bit stagnant, so we rebranded it,” she says. “Coming from the Invictus Games I felt it was really important that we shook things up, and made it a brand that was recognisable.

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Skiers such as James Woods are encouraging youngsters to try snowsports

“Two years in, we are in a good place. We have finished the season on a high, despite the impact of coronavirus.”

She says UK winter sport athletes have come back into training refreshed after the coronavirus lockdown, with the moguls squad training in Tignes, France, and some of the other Olympic and Paralympic disciplines conducting training camps in Saas Fee, Switzerland.

Meanwhile, Park & Pipe discipline team members are based in the UK, training in snow centres.

‘Great talent’

GB Snowsport, under performance director Dan Hunt, operates an “Athletes First” approach – utilising everything from high-class coaching, to marginal gains through things such as aerodynamics, to athletes’ mental health.

Medal prospects for Beijing in 2022 include snowboarders Katie Ormerod and Charlotte Bankes, freestyle skier James Woods, emerging ski jumper Mani Cooper, Pyeongchang 2018 slopestyle bronze medallist Izzy Atkin, and freestyle skier Kirsty Muir.

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Medal prospect Katie Ormerod in action

“We have got such great talent coming through. In Beijing we are capable of having more athletes on more podiums than ever before,” says Gosling.

“Between now and then there will be World Cups and European Championships for the squads to hone their skills.”

The current Beijing medal targets are three to six medals in the Olympics and seven to 11 medals in the Paralympics. At the 2018 Games, Team GB skateboarders and skiers won two bronze medals.

‘Risk takers’

However, in the current climate, where there is a drive to include more minorities, as well as the less financially advantaged, in all aspects of life, snowsport may appear to outsiders to be a white, middle-class pastime.

But Gosling says: “When you look at the majority of our people they don’t come from an elite background.

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Madi Rowlands, currently out of action, worked night shifts at Royal Mail

“We have one athlete Madi Rowlands, who came from Royal Mail night shifts, and many others have had to take second jobs to get by. In terms of how we attract people we look from as wide a background as possible.

“We attract kids who like to take risks, who like the adrenalin.”

One project to help those with humble economic backgrounds is Project Balance, which gives individuals the opportunity to get into snowsport through skateboarding.

Funding struggles

GB Snowsport is also working closely with the England, Scotland and Wales snowsport federations to drive up participation levels.

As well as these initiatives Gosling has also overseen a growth in sporting squads from five to 12.

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GB Snowsport

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Gosling says the time is right to sign new sponsorship deals

For a while the organisation was struggling with funding, and had to turn to benefactors to bridge the gap between what it wanted to do, and what it could financially achieve.

“It wasn’t a brand attractive to sponsors, but now is the right time to get new commercial partners on board, and we are engaging with exciting brands,” she says.

‘Passionate’ Harry

Gosling is experienced in attracting big names, having brought Jaguar Land Rover on board for the second Invictus Games in 2016 in Orlando, Florida, which she headed up.

“Becoming CEO of the Invictus Games in 2016 was a huge challenge. It took me to a different level, having that level of responsibility was huge, but it was exciting.

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Gosling oversaw the 2016 Invictus Games in the US

“Prince Harry was great to work with. If it wasn’t for him, the Games wouldn’t have got to the level they have. He is passionate about everything he does, passionate about causes. He is also very humble.”

It is easy to forget Gosling also completed 22 years of service with the RAF.

“I joined after the first Gulf conflict and I was deployed for the second Gulf as a Squadron Leader and my remit was deputy chief of staff looking after personnel and logistics. I have fond memories of my years in the military.”

She adds: “Everything I have done has been a learning experience. The Invictus Games showed me anything is possible.

“But you also have to find the right work-life balance. I have got three young children, so have got to find that balance, particularly at the weekends.”

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