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There’s a need for speed in Pyeongchang

For our latest generation of winter Olympians the long wait is almost over. They are installed in the athletes village in Pyeongchang, ,South Korea and after years of preparation and training only the opening ceremony this evening stands between them and competing against the world’s best athletes.

Yesterday evening we attended the flag raising ceremony in the athlete village, which officially recognised Team GB’s attendance and commitment to the Games; however athletes, coaches and staff have been training and getting used to conditions in holding camps for some time.

I have attended the last two Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Sochi, which were both successful in their own way, but this Games feels different. No longer do we hear the rhetoric that Great Britain can rarely succeed in winter sports due to climate, geography, culture or funding. Now there is ambition and expectation around a number of sports and disciplines.

UK Sport have set a medal target range of four to eight, and five would deliver the best winter Games yet. Medal hopes rest with curling, short track speed skating, skeleton, bobsleigh, freestyle skiing, alpine skiing and snowboarding. That being said we have been reminded of the harsh reality and dangers of many winter sports with the news yesterday that snowboard medal hopeful Katie Ormerod has withdrawn after suffering a severely fractured right heel.

In any Summer Olympic Games Loughborough University can lay claim to supporting the development of many successful athletes who were students or trained on campus. Less so with winter Olympians as Bath University built a push start training track back in 2001 where Skeleton and Bobsleigh programmes are run and where athletes now focus their training-with one exception. Joel Fearon is a sub 10 second 100m sprinter and the third fastest Britain of all-time.

He started as a track athlete and his first coach at Loughborough was Michael Khmel, who is now GB National Bobsleigh Team Coach.  Michael is an ex-bobsledder himself and convinced him later in his career to try the sport. At that point in time there was no gym training equipment at the HiPAC, so all athletes trained in Powerbase. There he met Rich Ellis or ‘Big Rich’ as he is known, one of our gym instructors, who happens also to be a current British Powerlifting record holder. Rich set up specialised gym programme utilising his extensive knowledge of explosive strength training and they have now been training together ever since. The Powerbase Gym, where Joel spends so much of his time is now a Centre for Excellence for Technogym, who also happen to be the supplier of training equipment for the games here in Pyeongchang.

Joel is now widely recognised as the number one bobsleigh push man in the world and is one of six brake men selected for the Games. In just a few days he will be travelling at speeds of over 90mph in his quest to secure Olympic medal glory. There will be no one willing him down the track more than Rich Ellis, who will be hoping that there will be a little bit of Loughborough magic left on the freezing slopes of Pyeongchang.