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Gary Anderson reflects on Sochi disappointment and reveals why he is remaining as performance director of Great Britain Bobsleigh
The margins between success and disappointment are often small in sport but to lose out on an Olympic medal by a fraction of a second after four miles of racing – and four years of planning and preparation – must be very hard to take.
But the disappointment of Sochi has gradually been replaced by a feeling of unfinished business for the Watford-born performance director of Great Britain Bobsleigh, who has agreed to continue in his role for the next four-year Olympic cycle as the quest for medals turns to PyeongChang in South Korea.
I interviewed Gary Anderson at length twice in the build-up to the Winter Games where this country’s number one four-man sled hoped to secure a first Olympic medal in the sport since 1988. John Jackson’s crew came close – very close – but they ultimately finished an agonising 0.11 seconds off the podium on the final day of competition.
The former Leggatts School pupil was still considering an offer to remain at the helm when we met a fortnight ago but revealed to the Watford Observer on Wednesday that he had accepted, explaining: “I have the opportunity to continue the work that we commenced in 2010 – the plan was always eight years and we are half way through.”
Anderson had several factors to weigh up before accepting the offer an he explained when we met: “The sport is going through a merger with skeleton so it will be the British Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association, so we’ll have closer working links with skeleton and the chief executive will work across both sports.
“I believe it’s work that’s not finished but I have to make sure the investment we receive and the athletes in the programme are going to be able to deliver what I want it to deliver.”
To be a fraction of a second from an Olympic podium halfway through an eight-year strategy is an impressive place to be. But don’t be under any illusion; Anderson and British bobsleigh would rather be working towards the next Games with a medal already in the bag.
“We really wanted that medal,” the avid Watford FC fan stressed. “Every single one of us involved in that programme wanted that medal and I always said we’d go out there and do the best we possibly could. We did that and I couldn’t have asked for anymore from anybody else and I don’t think anybody could have asked for anymore from what we did. We did our very, very best and it was fifth place. It was very disappointing and I think the emotion overtook us a little bit on the day.
“As each day goes past and you evaluate, you look at the logic behind it and you look at all the facts, it was a fantastic performance, there’s no getting away from that. But the emotional side of it, we wanted that medal.”
He continued: “I think what it’s done is kept us very, very hungry. I’ve had it confirmed that all the athletes in the programme are staying on. We’re not losing any athletes that are going to be making up our senior squad and that really bodes well for the next four years. I’m considering the offer that’s on the table to me for the next four years, the sport is going through a huge change but the one thing that is encouraging for us is we’re going to have the same athletes, we’re going to have much better equipment with the projects that we’ve got running and the PyeongChang track could suit us. So there’s lot of things to be very positive about.”
Anderson's reasons for optimism are justified, but also founded on the disappointment of Sochi. It may be an over-simplistic way of explaining why Jackson and brakemen Stuart Benson, Bruce Tasker and Joel Fearon didn't secure a medal but, in short, they were two-fold – the order the crews were drawn and the ice conditions they experienced on the first run.
Great Britain 1’s timings at the end of the official training sessions were up with the very best and so “we knew we were going to be there or thereabouts and then the draw happened.
“We were drawn off 12th in the first run, partly because of our seeding because of John Jackson’s injury at the start of the year didn’t allow him to get the finishing positions to get the right number of points, and so we always knew we were going to be playing catch up. We were at the lower end of where we could have been drawn.”
Jackson defied medical expectations to compete at the Games after suffering a ruptured Achilles in August but it was that first run in Sochi that was to prove costly.
The former Barnet FC backroom staff member explained: “On the first run we thought he (Jackson) must have made a couple of mistakes but the coaches went through it and and couldn’t see major mistakes that put us two-tenths behind everybody and they put it down to the fact that the ice conditions deteriorated. Also, the sleds that went off around us, they were also two to three-tenths behind everybody else so we concluded that it was the ice conditions.
“That was confirmed in the next three runs when he was starting up with the leaders and we were coming down second, second and fifth. In two of the runs we were in silver-medal position, the fifth place would have put us down to bronze, it was just that first run that really hit us.”
Anderson admitted that finishing fifth – rather than fourth – helped soften the blow of missing out on a medal to a degree, although it didn’t feel that way at the time.
He said: “On the day going into the final run I thought we were going to sneak bronze, I really did. We didn’t take into account that the Latvians and the second Russian sled were going to have runs equal to us.
“After the third run going into the fourth run I thought we were going to be good enough to get bronze, all the coaches thought that, John Jackson thought that but we can’t control what the others did. The Latvians and the Russians pulled out blinders on that run. Although we beat them [on the final run], they pulled out blinders and that’s what kept them in front of us.”
Great Britain 1 may have met their UK Sport target of a top-six finish in Sochi but the sport must wait until June before finding how much funding they will have for the next four-year cycle.
Anderson is hopeful of an increase on the £3.2 million bobsleigh received last time round – “I’d like a little bit more but we could probably run a programme on what we’ve got. If we got a decrease then we’d be struggling” – continuing: “We know the criteria we have to hit, we know of the no compromise approach by UK Sport, we fully support that and we wouldn’t expect to be receiving funding unless we were challenging for world medals.
“I think we’ve proved that. We’ve certainly proved to UK Sport that we are sport that can develop athletes, that we can go to an Olympic Games and be in the medal zone.
“There’s been very positive noises from UK Sport and some excellent messages from them after the Games. I think we’ve shown what we can do, we’ve just now get to illustrate to them that we’ve got a programme going forward and lots of good athletes coming through.”
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