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Monday, 25 February, 2002, 15:10 GMT

Baxter to kickstart skiing boom

By BBC Sport Online's Bryn Palmer

Winning Britain's first ever Olympic skiing medal may not bring widespread fame and fortune to Alain Baxter.

But the Scot's surprise bronze medal success in Salt Lake City should help transform the country's future alpine fortunes.

That is the view of the man who first brought skiing to the nation's wider attention on a momentous day in Val Gardena over 20 years ago.

In 1981 Konrad Bartelski came within 11 hundredths of a second of claiming a remarkable win in World Cup downhill race.

As amazing, and surprising, as Bartelski's feat was, it did not result in a major change in fortunes for Britain's impoverished skiers.

"If British skiing doesn't develop in a positive manner on the back of this then we all deserve to be shot"
Konrad Bartelski

Indeed, it was another six months before Bartelski acquired even a trainer as he chased sponsorship merely to compete in his chosen discipline.

For Baxter such worries should now be consigned to the past, but the rewards for Winter Olympics glory are not likely to radically alter the Scot's lifestyle.

"The opportunity is there for him now but Alain will never be a millionaire out of this," said Bartelski, who helped raise the funds necessary for Baxter to compete in Salt Lake City.

"Alain certainly won't be fixing fences and laying roads likes he has done in the past. He will get some reward out of this but he won't be retiring a wealthy man.

"Premier League footballers earn more in a month than Alain could ever hope to earn in a year.

"But with the amount of hours he has put in to achieve his goal, the reward will be more equivalent to what you might pay a cleaner."

Despite the possibilities for increased sponsorship and equipment deals, the benefits of Baxter's success are likely to be felt in improved funding and preparation for Britain's skiers.

Bartleski believes the 28-year-old's rise to Olympian status after last year's breakthrough season, when he notched a series of top ten finishes, should galvanise support for the sport.

Commercial funding

"If British skiing doesn't develop in a positive manner in the next 12 to 24 months on the back of this then we all deserve to be shot," Bartelski said.

"I showed with my performance 20 years ago that it is possible for someone from Britain to compete at the highest level.

"The difference with Alain is that he has done it at an Olympic Games, and people who don't know anything about skiing have been really hit by this.

"Hopefully more Lottery funding should come on stream now, but we should target commercial funding as well.

"There are so many large city institutions who are happy to partake in skiing, and we need them to dip into their expense accounts."

Britain's top skiers now benefit from a "home away from home" in the Austrian Alps, set up by the British Olympic Association, under the guidance of coach Christian Schwaiger.

"The springboard is there; what we need now is for someone to win"
Konrad Bartelski

Baxter, along with brother Noel and Gareth Traynor, was one of three Britons to finish in the top 23 of the slalom, while youngsters Ross Green and Chemmy Alcott also showed high promise for the future in their events.

"Christian has achieved miracles," Bartelski insists. "He should be on a four-year contract by the end of this week because his work has been exemplary.

"All our skiers performed over their expectations. And with the BOA's training programme up and running, the elements are in place to build on what we have done.

"The springboard is there; what we need now is for someone to win. That is the target we should be aiming for."

So could Baxter, buoyed by his success in Salt Lake City, go on to become Britain's first Olympic skiing champion in 2006, or more immediately win a World Cup race?

"He has already answered that himself," added Bartelski.

"To do what he did under that pressure, on one of the toughest courses, with the level of expectation after the first run.

"He delivered the goods at the right time when a lot of other people didn't, and only one guy finished ahead of him on the second run."


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