Scots athletes target Olympic glory

SCOTTISH athletes are hoping to lead the medal charge at the Winter Olympics.

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More than a third of the British Olympic team is from Scotland
More than a third of the British Olympic team is from Scotland

More than a third of TeamGB set to compete in Sochi are from north of the border, including two local heroes.

West of Scotland curling star Claire Hamilton and Troon-man Stuart Benson are two of a total of 18 Scots named in the 56-strong GB squad.

Stuart, who will compete as part of the four-man bobsleigh team, said the Games were set to the be "pinnacle" of his career and he was hopeful they would come home with a medal.

Today, the sporting extravaganza will launch with the Opening Ceremony at the Fisht Olympic Stadium which, although a closely guarded secret, promises to be an incredible spectacular of entertainment.

The event will run for 17 days, featuring 15 disciplines across seven Olympic sports - the largest Winter Olympics ever.

Expected to be the most expensive Games ever staged, Russia has gone all out with a substantial building programme which will see ice events staged at a cluster near to the Black Sea with a second hub for skiing and sliding events in the mountains, 30 miles from the city.

For the first time at an Olympic Winter Games, there will be an Olympics Park, with venues for ice hockey, speed skating, short track speed skating, curling and figure skating, all within a short walk from the stadium set to host the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

More than 85 countries are taking part in the events ranging from skiiing and snowboarding to curling and ice skating.

For Team GB, both curling teams - made up entirely of Scots - are among the favourites to win medals at the event.

Claire Hamilton, 25, of Glasgow, was one of the first to be selected and Royal Air Force serviceman Corporal Stuart Benson will make his Olympic debut.

Stuart, who will celebrate his 33rd birthday on February 12, during the Games, will be hoping there will be a second celebration if they manage a podium place on February 23 - the last day of the Games.

Despite only taking up the sport in 2010, him and the rest if the team, which includes John Jackson, Bruce Tasker and Joel Fearo, have risen up the world rankings, taking fourth overall at the World Championships in December at Lake Placid.

Stuart, who is the tallest athlete in TeamGB at 6ft 5ins, joined the RAF in 2000 and works as an Avionics Technician based at RAF Cosford.

Always a keen athlete, as a youngster he trained in the 100m and 200m sprints at his local club Ayr Seaforth AC.

He went on to train and compete with the RAF Athletics Team for long jump and triple jump before moving back to running.

In 2010 he was part of the 4x100m Scottish relay team, at the Crystal Palace Diamond League where he narrowly missed out on the qualifying time for Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games.

The disappointment made him question athletics and he was encouraged to join the RAF Bobsleigh team.

Because of the fast start being so important to bobsleighing, many athletes graduate from track and field, to the sport which sees them push the sled for up to 50 metres, with speeds in excess of 25mph recorded, before they load in to whizz towards the finish.

In 2011, the year he won RAF Sportsman ­­of the Year, he was invited to train with Team GB and was selected for the top squad.

Stuart, speaking at the GB squad's kitting out, said the Games would be a "unbelievable experience."

But, he said, he wasn't a natural in the bobsleigh when he first started out three years ago.

He said: "I'm tall and skinny and trying to fit into a bath-tub size thing doesn't come naturally at all.

"I've a lot more flexibility in my neck and back now than when I started. Pushing it was OK. Being tall and rangy helps pushing it. But, the actual sliding, it has taken a few years for my body to get used to the abuse it has to take."

Looking towards Sochi, Stuart said the team were on good form.

He said: "Now we are back near the top of the world where we should be."

The four-man bobsleigh team are due to compete on February 22-23.

Mike Whittingham, director of High Performance at sportscotland, said having so many Scottish athletes selected to represent Team GB was a "proud moment" for Scots.

He added: "Like millions of people right across Britain, I shall be cheering on Claire, Stuart and all our other athletes in Sochi."

Tomorrow's schedule features competitions in biathlon, cross-country skiiing, freestyle skiiing, snowboard and speed skating.

l The Winter Olympics will be broadcast on BBC2 daily from 7am, with an hour-long highlights programme starting at 7pm.

matty.sutton@eveningtimes.co.uk

Sport

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