By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Turning Britain into a top-five Olympic nation in skiing and snowboarding might appear about as realistic as climbing the Eiger in a pair of plimsolls, but that is the target Dan Hunt has set himself.
It is unlikely to happen at next year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang but Hunt does not have much time for the naysayers who laugh off the prospects of a nation without any Alpine DNA.
For good reason too.
Hunt, who became performance director of British Ski and Snowboard (BSS) a year ago, has previous when it comes to mocking conventional wisdom.
When he joined British Cycling in 2005, then performance director Dave Brailsford put him in charge of a women’s endurance squad used to making up the numbers.
Hunt, who had no expertise in cycling, applied his background in exercise science and physiology to such great effect that Rebecca Romero and Wendy Houvenaghel won gold and silver in the individual pursuit in Beijing in 2008.
Now he believes Britain’s skiers and snowboarders can make a similar jump from also-rans to medal winners.
“We’ve set out to become a top-five nation,” Hunt said in an interview at a media day for Britain’s Pyeongchang hopefuls at Hemel Hempstead’s Snow Centre.
“As soon as you say something like that, and I’ve done that a couple of times so I know what’s going to happen, you get 33 percent of the team saying ‘yeah that’s what we want, want to start winning, we want ambition’.
“Then you have the “that will never happen brigade”. They think just because it hasn’t been done means it can’t be done.
“When we said at British Cycling that we wanted to have a Tour de France champion by 2013 the room burst into laughter.
“Then you have the middle group who will take a step to the left or right depending on how it’s going to pan out. That’s why you have to deliver what you said you were going to deliver.”
Hunt’s second Olympics as a cycling coach was London 2012 where the hosts won 12 medals, after which he joined Team Sky as Sporting Director, before being poached by the Premier League to run its Elite Player Performance Plan.
“It’s been an interesting journey for me,” Hunt, now responsible for all the snow disciplines — including Alpine, cross-country, freestyle, snowboard and ski jumping, said.
“There are some fundamental aspects of performance that are very similar across all sports. You take good leadership, good coaching and strap that around a very defensible performance plan. You need a clear vision and strategy.”
Britain won it’s first ever Olympic medal on snow when Jenny Jones came third in the snowboard slopestyle in Sochi 2014.
Last year, the team earned 15 World Cup podiums across the various disciplines and heading into Pyeonchang there are realistic medal hopes for the likes of slalom skier Dave Ryding, snowboarders Katie Ormerod and Billy Morgan and freestyle skiers James Woods and Katie Summerhayes.
Hunt said his first year in charge has been about “plugging gaps” and while he does not expect a medal rush in South Korea, he is confident the team can better Sochi.
“I’m not Harry Potter with a magic wand saying we are suddenly going to be a competitive nation. But we have a process in place. Pyeongchang is 100 days and I’m hoping it will be our most successful Games.
“But once we have come back the world won’t stop turning. Then we start focusing on Beijing 2022 and where we will have many more opportunities.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by John O’Brien)