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Thursday, 7 February, 2002, 11:43 GMT
'The days of Eddie the Eagle are gone'
Nicky Gooch at the last Winter Games in Nagano
Nicky Gooch is among Stuart Horsepool's charges
Former Olympic speed skater Stuart Horsepool is at the Salt Lake City Games this year as coach to a new crop of athletes. He reflects on Olympics past and present in our weekly Real Time series.

Today we travel down to Salt Lake City from the holding camp in Calgary. Although we've been to Salt Lake several times in the past two years, we've not been to the Olympic village before.

National Guard in Salt Lake City
Security became a priority after 11 September
With all the security and the dos and the don'ts, I expect it's going to be quite different this time around. There'll be loads of media and lots of checkpoints for the obvious reasons.

Although the village is only 10 or 15 minutes away from the competition venues, one of the biggest problems will be the time it'll take to get from A to B through security. Just so long as I don't forget my pass, I should be OK.

Our athletes have also had to learn to cope with the pressure of skating in front of all these people. It's 24-hour attention at the Olympics. If you're David Beckham, you learn to cope with the exposure. But speed skating is a minority sport - apart from family and friends, we usually get one man and his dog coming to watch us.

Need to acclimatise

This is the first time there's been a holding camp for the winter games and everyone from Team GB has been up here.


As anyone who has been on a skiing holiday knows, the first few walks up stairs are tough

The holding camp has been like a halfway house - it's not as intense as the Games itself, but it's not as relaxed as it is at home. It's been very good for us - especially the three rookies on our team.

Not only have we been able to get in the habit of wearing accreditation all the time, it's been nice to get over the jetlag and get used to the altitude in a non-competitive environment.

As anyone who has been on a skiing holiday knows, the first few walks up stairs gets them completely out of breath. It's the same for the athletes.

Team GB speed skaters
Stuart has high hopes for his speed skaters
No matter how fit you are, when you first go into a higher altitude it's tough. The athletes are trying to prepare for the one big chance they're going to get in life and they want to feel their best when they get there - yet two laps and they're exhausted.

They've got used to the altitude now and the training times in the past couple of days are the best they've ever had.

The skaters have been gradually improving all year. One young lad, Leon [Flack], has made a huge jump from 47th in the world down to 17th. But whether we've improved enough to get on the podium, only time will tell.

We're one of the lucky events in Team GB as we've had a new national ice rink centre built in Nottingham. For the past 18 months we've had regular ice time and have been training together as a group.

Train through the night

It was completely different when I was skating competitively in the 1980s. My time was spent training during the night.

Torvill and Dean
Stuart once trained alongside Torvill and Dean
We'd get there at 10.30pm as the public was finishing their session, get the ice cleaned and train from 11pm 'til 1am. Then Jane and Chris [ice dancers Torvill and Dean] would turn up, clean the ice again and train until 4am. But skating was an amateur sport then. I worked fulltime as a butcher.

These days I'm a full-time coach and the 18 skaters on my programme are all fulltime - I hesitate to say professional - athletes.

It may not be everyone's view of the Olympian ideal, but the days of Eddie the Eagle are over. Gone are the days when you could do a few jogs a week and take part.


Real Time gives people a chance to tell their own stories in their own words. If you've got something to say, click here.



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See also:

07 Feb 02 | Features
07 Feb 02 | Features
06 Feb 02 | Skating
21 Jan 02 | Skating
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