Road To Russia: North-East star gets his skates on to make Great Britain Winter Olympics team

The Northern Echo: ICE KING: Matt Parr from North Shields, who sometimes trains at Whitley Bay Ice Rink, won his fourth national title at last month’s British Championships in Sheffield ICE KING: Matt Parr from North Shields, who sometimes trains at Whitley Bay Ice Rink, won his fourth national title at last month’s British Championships in Sheffield

HAVING devoted more than a decade of his life to figure skating, Matt Parr's dream of competing in the Winter Olympics was effectively determined by two routines, each of which was around three minutes in length. No pressure there then.

With one men's place available in the team competition in Sochi, North Shields' Parr knew he had to claim his fourth national title at last month's British Championships in Sheffield in order to climb to the top of the domestic rankings.

Not only that, but he also had to beat his leading rival by nine points to secure top spot, a sizeable margin in a sport where the judges work in fractions when it comes to assessing a technical error.

Ten years of toil and sacrifice, including leaving home to uproot to Scotland at the age of 15, all boiled down to a single competition.

“It was probably the most pressure I've ever felt in my life,” said Parr, who learned to skate at Whitley Bay Ice Rink and earned his first call up to the England squad as an 11-year-old. “The selection process ran through the whole of the year, and because I hadn't had a particularly good season, I went into the Nationals playing catch up.

“I had to win by a certain margin, and I was always going to give it my best shot, but to be honest I went into those Championships thinking my season would probably be over once they were finished.

“The first routine was always going to be the key one, and I beat my main rival by 15 points, which was a massive difference. He just gave up after that.

“I think he knew there was no way back and he didn't finish the competition. That obviously made it easier for me, but I still had to execute the rest of the championships without any errors, and I feel proud that when the stakes were at their highest, I was able to do that and come through.”

As a result, 23-year-old Parr will make his Winter Olympic debut in Russia next month, even though Britain failed to secure a qualifying place for the men's competitions.

Ordinarily, that would have been that, but next year's Games will see the first ever team competition, in which an individual male, individual female, pair and ice dance duo combine to represent their country.

The top ten nations in the combined world rankings have earned a spot in Sochi, and with Britain ranked tenth, Parr and his team-mates faced a nervous wait before their selection was confirmed.

“On a personal level, it was great news when the team competition was announced because that was always going to be my best chance of getting to the Games,” said Parr. “But our ranking had to be high enough and I'm so grateful to the rest of the team because it's their performances really that have got us to Sochi.

“We always thought we would be in the top ten, but it wasn't until the final rankings were confirmed by the ISU that we could really breathe easily.

“Even that wasn't it though, because Team GB still had to decide whether they were going to fulfil their quota place and take a team to the Games. We found out their decision at the same time as everyone else, and it was a massive relief when they confirmed we would be going.”

The preliminary round of the team competition takes place on the day before the Winter Olympic opening ceremony in February, and with the men's and pairs disciplines scheduled first, Parr will be one of the first athletes to compete in the Games.

It is all a fair cry from his earliest days on the ice, which saw him skating for fun at Whitley Bay before a call up to the national ranks forced him to take the sport more seriously.

“I lived about five minutes away from the rink at Whitley Bay, and I still train there once a month or so when I come back home,” said Parr. “But ever since I've been a teenager, I've had to leave the North-East to get the best training I can.

“I started off in Ayrshire a few days a week, but then my coaches (Simon and Debi Briggs) moved to Dundee and I headed up there to work with them. I lived with them for quite a while when I was 15 or so, and that was a big commitment.

“It was harder on my parents than it was on me, but hopefully they'll agree it was all worth it when they see me representing Great Britain in the Olympics.”

Britain has a strong figure skating pedigree, with Robin Cousins and Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean having won gold medals during the 1980s.

Since then, however, Britain has tumbled down the international pecking order, with the likes of Canada, the United States and Japan dominating the world rankings.

“It all comes down to money in the end,” said Parr. “The funding that is pumped into the leading countries is at a completely different level to what we have here.

“The facilities and programmes are miles apart, so just to have made it into the top ten is quite an achievement. There are a lot of people doing their best to improve things in this country, but it's going to take time and perhaps the priorities haven't always been right.

“As skaters, we're totally committed to doing what we can for the sport. But we can only do so much and we're reliant on everyone else going about things in the right way too.”

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