Why Emily Sarsfield's Winter Olympics omission casts a shadow over the rest of Team GB

HEARTBROKEN: Emily Sarsfield was controversially overlooked for a place on Team GB at the Winter Olympics

HEARTBROKEN: Emily Sarsfield was controversially overlooked for a place on Team GB at the Winter Olympics

First published in Sport
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THIS should have been one of the greatest days of Emily Sarsfield's life.

Later this afternoon, Sochi's Fisht Olympic Stadium hosts the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, and as Britain's long-established number one in the sport of ski cross, Durham's Sarsfield should have been marching proudly behind the Union Jack as part of Team GB.

Instead, she will be watching on television with her dreams of becoming an Olympian dashed. The pain of disappointment will be considerable, and will only be enhanced by the knowledge that it shouldn't have turned out like this.

Four years ago, when the Winter Olympics were staged in Vancouver, Sarsfield missed out because a pre-Games crash left her nursing broken bones in both of her legs. This time around, it is intransigence rather than injury that has robbed her of an Olympic place.

The British Olympic Association (BOA) and British Ski and Snowboard (BSS), the bodies that are supposed to do all they can to assist our aspiring Winter Olympians, have combined to prevent Sarsfield from taking up the spot she has been offered at Sochi.

That is why, for all the talk of Team GB potentially achieving the best ever performance recorded by a British squad at a Winter Games, the build-up to the opening ceremony has left a bitter taste in the mouth. Why celebrate success, when a potential team member's hopes and dreams have been so cruelly smashed?

To recap, when Sarsfield pledged to continue competing after her horror crash in 2009, British Ski and Snowboard laid down some strict criteria that would determine her eligibility to compete in Sochi.

They wanted the 30-year-old to achieve three top-24 finishes on the World Cup schedule leading up to the Games. She has achieved that and more. They wanted her to prove she could be a “credible performer” on the Olympic stage. She more than satisfied that criteria by finishing 17th at last year's World Championships.

They wanted her to be among the top 32 performers in the world, and that is where they have identified the wriggle room to omit Sarsfield from the squad.

When the world rankings were published in January, Sarsfield had dropped to 34th, largely because the main two European events on the calendar were dropped because of a lack of snow.

In terms of Olympic competition, however, those rankings were an irrelevance. Countries are only allowed to name a certain number of competitors in skiing events, and once the national quotas were taken into account, along with the absence of a competitor who is injured and another who had retired, Sarsfield rose to 27th, comfortably above the cut-off point.

That was good enough for the International Skiing Federation (FIS), who issued her with an Olympic invite. It was good enough for the International Olympic Committee, who rubber-stamped her place. But for some unfathomable reason, it was insufficient to satisfy British Ski and Snowboard, who barred her from competing.

It is not as though another British athlete will be going in her place. Instead, the spot that had been allocated to Britain has been passed elsewhere. It is not even as though the BOA have a blanket ban against so-called 'hand back spots' as they took athletes to Vancouver in alpine skiing, snowboarding, cross-country and freestyle on a similar basis.

No. It is simply a case of British Ski and Snowboard digging their heels in and citing a minor technicality as sufficient excuse to wreck Sarsfield's ambitions and potentially set back the development of British ski cross by more than a decade.

It is a sorry state of affairs, especially when posited against the “vision, mission and objectives” that are outlined in British Ski and Snowboard Ltd's constitution.

According to the organisation's rules and regulations: “The vision of BSS is to support British skiers and snowboarders to achieve outstanding results, to promote participation in FIS disciplines.” Not exactly doing that then.

It is also meant to: “Develop and financially support programmes for athletes who have the potential to compete successfully at Continental Cup, World Junior Championship, World Championship and Olympic levels in all snowsports disciplines.” Hmmm.

And finally, it exists to: “Create performance pathways for the most talented British athletes, whereby such athletes can attain their personal best.” Except, presumably, if you're Emily Sarsfield.

With both the BSS and BOA refusing to discuss the rationale behind their decision, other than pointing to the discrepancy in Sarsfield's world ranking, we can only guess at why they have refused to budge despite the existence of a petition boasting more than 6,800 signatures arguing for the North-Easterner's inclusion in the squad for the Games.

Maybe they genuinely feel she will be uncompetitive, despite a host of results suggesting otherwise. Perhaps they think that if they cave in once, they will have to do so again in the future. Given that Sarsfield has not received a penny of funding from the BSS, BOA or UK Sport, maybe the authorities are embarrassed by just how successful she has become given that they have repeatedly deemed her unworthy of support.

Ultimately, however, their motive is an irrelevance. The brutal reality is that the Winter Olympics officially start this afternoon, and Sarsfield will not be in Russia. What should have been a British sporting success story has turned into an episode that shames and embarrasses the powers that be.

**

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