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Monday, 14 January, 2002, 11:46 GMT

Crossing the divide

BBC Sport Online talks to former skier John Clark about crossing the sporting divide to coach Britain's snowboard hopefuls for Salt Lake.

John Clark is the first to admit that, after a long career in skiing, coaching Britain's snowboard hopefuls has been a daunting task.

"The switch to snowboarding has been a major change - a shock to the system," the Scot said with a smile.

But not just a change of footwear, it has required learning new tactics.

The half-pipe is based on performance and what the judges think, rather than speed events that Clark has dealt with in the past.

"I've been running around with a stopwatch as my main coaching tool for the last 20 years.

John Clark
Position: British Snowboard Team coach
Hometown: Aviemore, Scotland
Year with team: 1
Coaching: APC 3
Scottish Alpine Team coach 1993-98
British Women's Alpine Team coach 1984
Devt of UK Alpine coaching for 6 years
Competition:
British Alpine ski Team 1976-81
British Speed Ski Team - world ranked 8th and came 4th in World Championships La Clusaz

"And stopwatches don't count anymore, it's the judges impression of what the performers do.

"That's the essence of the sport, although the mechanics are very similar."

It seems that some of the tactics are more psychological than practical and being seen as a winner is important.

"You're trying to build an image in the judge's mind that although she's got GBR against her name, she's likely to win the competition."

Despite crossing the snowy sporting divide, Clark's world class experience is undeniable.

In the 1970s, he was part of Britain's Alpine ski team and speed ski team before retiring from competition in 1981 to become a coach.

Since then, he has been a key figure in training some of Britain's top skiers and winter athletes.

So it is not surprising that he had known British snowboarder Lesley McKenna years before she had even taken up the sport.

"At the Winter Olympics , you'll see the best riding from the world's snowboarders and particularly Lesley McKenna"
John Clark

When McKenna and fellow competitor Melanie Leando were given a funding package by the UK Sports Council last season, Clark seemed the obvious choice as coach.

"It enabled them to employ somebody who had experienced working with world class performers," Clark explained.

"So, last spring, they asked me if 'd be interested in doing this job and I was. And here we are now with things starting to go really well."

In fact Clark is confident that Britain can become real contenders in the women's event.

"The majority of the judges, and any judges who have seen her this season, know that Lesley is a contender," he said.

"One thing is for sure, at the Winter Olympics you'll see the best riding from the world's snowboarders and, particularly Lesley McKenna, that anybody has ever seen"

Clark seems to have adjusted to his role quite well, but he is still not so sure about getting on a snowboard himself.

"I'm still standing on my skis at the side of the hill," he joked.

"I've got a contract until the end of the season, so I need to keep myself in one piece."


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