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Page last updated at 09:40 GMT, Monday, 9 March 2009

Sliding into Olympic position

Briton Rosen believes he is an Olympic medal prospect in luge
Briton Rosen believes he is an Olympic medal prospect in luge

By Anna Thompson

This season has been one of the most successful for Britain's sliding sports athletes.

Bobsleigh duo Nicola Minichiello and Gillian Cooke won World Championship gold while in the skeleton equivalent, Amy Williams and Adam Pengilly both came home with silver medals.

Shelley Rudman, meanwhile, finished runner-up in the World Cup standings and in luge, Adam Rosen came sixth in a World Cup race which was the best finish ever for a British athlete.

So with less than a year to go before the 2010 Winter Olympics one could easily believe that all is rosy.

But could a lack of funding scupper Britain's chances of success in Vancouver, Canada? Rosen certainly thinks so.

The 24-year-old's remarkable result was achieved because he borrowed a better luge from the Canadians, which was fitted with German runners (or 'steels'), considered to be the best in the world.

When Rosen races with his own sled, he normally finishes in the 20s.

He told BBC Sport: "The result in Canada was bitter-sweet. If I have the right equipment, I can challenge for top 10 results but at the moment I don't have good equipment."

Minichiello and Cooke in action in bobsleigh
Minichiello and Cooke in action in bobsleigh

Rosen, who finished 16th at the 2006 Winter Olympics, is not funded by UK Sport and instead survives on a small scholarship grant from the International Olympic Committee and support from his generous parents as well as working through the summer to pay for his winter on the ice.

He is grateful to Bobsleigh Canada for a partnership in which he is able to gain valuable ice time on the Whistler track which will be used in the Games next February but wishes his equipment matched his athletic ambitions.

"I don't just want to compete, I want to do well, to do what I know I can," he added.

Richard Simmons, performance director of the British Luge Association, backs Rosen's Olympic potential.

He said: "AJ's performance in Calgary is absolutely tremendous and shows that he can be regarded as a world class athlete in his sport.

"His determination to achieve despite all odds is quite remarkable and his coach Tommy Zeitz has done a great job in helping AJ reach this far.

"With the right level of funding and technical support, AJ has now shown he can be a contender for a podium place in luge at Olympic level."


In bobsleigh, meanwhile, Minichiello has enjoyed her best season - a gold at the World Championships, bronze at the Europeans and third in the World Cup standings.

Her team is funded to the tune of about £150,000 a year by UK Sport but this just about covers her costs on the world stage.

To put it into context, Minichiello's German counterpart, Sandra Kiriasis, who has dominated the sport for the last nine years, is part of a multi-million pound machine.

Kiriasis, who has won the World Cup title for the past seven seasons and clinched gold at the Turin Olympics, has her sled finely tuned and uses the latest technology to give her the edge in a sport which is decided by hundredths of a second.

Minichiello said: "I don't want to sound ungrateful because UK Sport are brilliant with us.

"It's just that the more funding you can get, the more you can do with the sled, a little bit more testing, a little bit more development for example.

"The German teams are a multi-million pound organisation so if people can come in and help us, that would always increase our chances."

Bromley won the 2008 World title
In 2008 Bromley won World and European Championships and World Cup

Dr Scott Drawer, UK Sport's head of research and innovation, says British athletes can tap into the country's renowned aerospace and automotive technology so he believes they are not at that much of a disadvantage compared to the better funded German, Swiss, American and Russian teams.

He said: "The technology does make a difference but it's not the most significant thing.

"Often, it's not about how many people and how much money but the quality of the people you have."

But one winter sport in which Britain excels in is skeleton - and it is no coincidence it has been backed handsomely with Lottery money.

Before taking up the sport himself, Kristan Bromley revolutionised sled technology by writing a PhD thesis on "factors affecting the performance of skeleton bobsleds" and designed a sled which led to Brit Alex Coomber winning the World Cup title and bronze at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Increased funding resulted in yet more success with Rudman taking home a silver medal from the 2006 Games.

Because of this, UK Sport doubled its funding to almost £2m for the four-year cycle up to Vancouver 2010 and this has enabled skeleton to produce medal winners and a World champion in Bromley in 2008.

Mark Carter, British Bobsleigh performance co-ordinator, believes other sliding sports could follow skeleton's success with the right funding and infrastructure.

He also called for funding bodies to be more bold.

Carter told BBC Sport: "Until you're successful, you don't get funding. UK Sport will invest in success but it will not invest in potential."

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see also
Dr Ice knows best
11 Jan 02 |  Luge and Skeleton
GB winter sports given cash boost
27 Jul 06 |  Winter Sports
Pengilly plots further progress
02 Mar 09 |  Winter Sports
Williams focused on summer return
02 Mar 09 |  Winter Sports
Britain's bobsleigh ice queens
02 Mar 09 |  Winter Sports
Brit bobsleighers win World gold
22 Feb 09 |  Winter Sports
Best season for Brit bobsleigher
16 Feb 09 |  Winter Sports

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