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Anger after skiing slots for Sochi are left unfilled

Britain may be basking in the glow of a first Olympic medal won on snow but a senior figure in winter sports in Scotland has criticised the selection criteria that may hinder the chances of Jenny Jones' success being built upon in four years' time.

Glasgow's Dougie Crawford is among the skiers denied a potential place. Picture: Getty Images
Glasgow's Dougie Crawford is among the skiers denied a potential place. Picture: Getty Images

Gordon Ritchie, a director of Snowsport Scotland, has shared in the excitement generated by an improved British showing in Sochi, but believes it only reinforces the feeling that an opportunity has been missed because the British Olympic Association chose not to take up its full allocation of places in Alpine skiing.

From the point of view of his organisation's remit, he is particularly unhappy about the impact on Scottish skiers. Ricthie said: "Team GB athletes out in Sochi right now are giving their all and doing a great job, but the addition of more of this country's top winter athletes would only have enhanced the overall effect and given the nation an even bigger opportunity to shine, and possibly take more medals.

"The BOA handed back five places because the selection process has been brutal this time around. It is without a doubt the toughest criteria on record and, as a result, young Scottish athletes have been denied the opportunity to go to Sochi while, more importantly, they have been denied the experience that would undoubtedly have helped them win in Korea at the next Olympics."

Ritchie is in no doubt that Glasgow's Dougie Crawford, Charlie Guest from Perth and Aberdeen's Alex Tilley could all have been competitive had they been allowed to go to Russia and, in a sport where competitors rarely enjoy success at their first Olympics, they could have gained vital experience for the future.

"Quite frankly, the bar was set far too high and no quarter was given in the selection process," he said. "If you take Dougie as the prime example, he acquired all the results to qualify but was two weeks too late to do so, yet six of the nine races he entered were cancelled because of the weather.

"Bearing in mind that he has to fund his race programme himself, he has probably spent tens of thousands of pounds racing across Europe and North America to qualify."

Crawford, Guest and Tilley would be no more likely to win medals than the vast majority of other British snowsport competitors, but Ritchie believes the decision to turn down places they had been allocated could return to haunt the BOA.

"It is grossly unfair to hand back these places and deny the cream of the crop the opportunity to ski for their country," he said, noting that there has also been controversy regarding the decision not to let the English athlete Emily Sarsfield, ranked 34th in the world at ski cross, participate.

"Britain was allocated seven places for Alpine skiers. We have handed five back and the worry is: will we get them back in the future? It is a matter of record that, when the USA did the same thing a few years ago, they struggled to get them back," Ritchie added. 'It is absolutely crazy to have returned these places and turned down the opportunity to let these young athletes shine on the world stage, given they have demonstrated that they have the talent, the enthusiasm and the ability to win medals.

"These young people are great ambassadors for Scotland and great ambassadors for Team GB, and nobody can quite understand why they are not in Sochi right now."

Ritchie believes the nature of the selection process is likely to prove a disincentive to sportspeople who are showing huge commitment and making huge sacrifices to try to get to the top of their event.

"To say it's disappointing doesn't hit the mark. What we need from the BOA is a complete explanation of this situation. We need to hear their reasons for giving up so many places and an explanation of the criteria which have denied athletes the opportunity to compete for medals at the winter Olympics," Ritchie said.

"The Olympic selection for GB athletes clearly states 'credible performance' and the athletes competing there are meeting that mark and more by medalling. We want to ensure we build on that for Korea in four years' time and handing back five Alpine places is difficult to understand."

Invited to respond, Betony Garner, media officer for British Ski and Snowboard, said: "While it is always extremely disappointing to see any athlete miss out on selection for an Olympic Games, the selection bar has to be set high, to ensure every competitor meets the standards expected by the BOA and UK Sport.

"Every skier and snowboarder was selected on the basis of their current performances, and the decisions of the selection panels were scrutinised by the BSS Board and the BOA.

"We are committed to our strategy of winning more Olympic and World snowsports medals, and our performances in Sochi have shown that we are starting to achieve success born out of our snowsports programmes."

Darryl Seibel, spokesman for the BOA, also defended the process. He said: "The Olympic Qualification Standards [OQS] by which an athlete can be nominated for selection to Team GB are established first by their national governing body and subsequently agreed with the British Olympic Association. The OQS are then shared with athletes by their national governing bodies well in advance of the qualification process beginning. The OQS are purposely rigorous and help ensure the selection process is entirely fair and objective."

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