Great Britain were almost completely brought back down to Earth in preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympics this week as the women’s ice hockey team failed to progress beyond the pre-qualification stage. Fortunately, the men succeeded in doing just that.
It’s easy to forget that, in years gone by, there have been many Olympic sports that haven’t seen any British representation – wrestling and handball, for instance. Then along comes London 2012 and the home nation gets automatic berths into almost everything. The main limit came down to UK Sport’s own standards, such was the debacle surrounding the rhythmic gymnasts. When it came down to the main tournaments, Team GB had valiant efforts in volleyball and water polo but we proved that, as world beaters in cycling, rowing and sailing, Britain can’t be good at everything.
Once again, I prove myself to be no expert at smaller sports so I’m unaware if qualification is currently underway for other events like luge or curling. What I do know is that the men, at least, aren’t anywhere near the best in the world at ice hockey, way behind the behemoths of Russia, Finland and Canada. The past week saw twelve smaller nations attempt to claim one of the three remaining places in Sochi. Great Britain had the chance to host the group containing themselves, Japan, South Korea and Romania but, for some reason, passed the burden on to Japan. It may have proved to be a shrewd choice as, in front of 1,738 fans, Britain’s men overcame the host nation in the decisive match that sees them progress to the final qualification stage.
Qualification didn’t look too likely in the opening stages; Great Britain were beaten by South Korea in a penalty shoot-out, but this gave them the vital point that separated the two by the end of the week. GB’s turning point came with a 3-0 win against a Romanian side that failed to score a single goal in the competition. Following the victory over Japan, Britain now have to wait until February next year and a trip to Latvia before knowing if they’ll be at the opening ceremony.
Alas, every cliffhanger has two sides and, while the men celebrate their progress and await stronger teams, the female ice hockey team crashed and burned at their first hurdle. Their only win came at the hands of a Netherlands team so weak, they needed a preliminary qualification round match before the pre-qualification round – and that was a close 3-2 win. In other matches, Britain’s ladies were thumped 7-0 and 5-0 by France and China respectively.
The season of automatic qualification is all but a distant memory and the brutal truth starts to wash over us again. Great Britain never have been stellar at the Winter Olympics and 2014 is probably two years too far for many of our competitors. We’ve had our summer of sport, now we wait for our winter of discontent.