OVER the next two weeks, the 20th Winter Olympics will create a host of incredible sporting images. Downhill skiers reaching speeds of 85mph, bobsleighers flying around 90 degree bends less than an inch above a sheet of unforgiving ice, and snowboarders completing double somersaults without even breaking sweat.

All impressive and high-octane stuff but, on these shores, the enduring winter memory will remain the sight of a bespectacled ski jumper achieving little of note.

In 1988, Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards finished last at the Calgary Winter Olympics and, in the process, entered British sporting folklore.

Epitomising the Olympic ideal of competition overshadowing success, Edwards was embraced as the ultimate underdog. Sadly, he also became a symbol for Britain's lack of Winter Olympic success.

The Sheffield ski jumper revelled in his role but, almost 17 years after his 15 minutes of fame, the country's current contingent of Winter Olympians are desperately trying to step out of his shadows.

While the British women's curling team claimed gold at Salt Lake City four years ago, their success was seen as the exception that proved the rule. As the Turin Olympics get under way this morning, expectations of home success will be low. Another Eddie The Eagle is still considered more likely than another British victory.

"Eddie put the sport on the map," said women's downhill skier Chemmy Alcott. "But he did it for completely the wrong reasons.

"You still get people who think we are skiing versions of him. They think we are out there to come last and make a mockery of ourselves.

"But skiing is our lives. We train for it 24-7 and we compete at the highest level with the best in the world."

In many ways, Alcott's experience is instructive. She has achieved nine top-20 results at World Cup level but is chiefly known for her looks rather than her accomplishments on the piste.

While British Olympic chief Simon Clegg has played down hopes of a British medal in Turin, it would be a major disappointment if the likes of Alcott were not able to at least cement their status as competitors of international repute. Whatever the next two weeks turns out to be for the British squad, it will not be a case of competing for fun.

Alcott forms part of Britain's six-strong Alpine skiing squad and, while she has a point to prove to those who have dubbed her the 'Anna Kournikova of the slopes', Scotsman Alain Baxter has some even greater demons to confront.

In 2002, Baxter basked in the glory of winning Britain's first alpine skiing medal when he finished third in the men's slalom. Six days later, though, and his world fell apart when he was told his routine drugs test had been positive.

After swapping his usual Vicks nasal inhaler for an alternative American model, a nanogram of the banned substance methamphetamine was found in his system.

His subsequent disqualification inevitably hit him hard and, while his current form suggests a repeat of his bronze medal winning run is unlikely, a return to the Olympic slopes represents rehabilitation of a sort.

For actual medal winners, though, it might be best to turn to the ice track of Cesana. As a research officer at the University of Bath's Department of Engineering and Applied Science, Kristan Bromley is well placed to assess the geometry of the skeleton bob circuit. Thankfully, for Britain, he is also brave enough, or stupid enough, to negotiate it head first on a piece of metal half the size of his body.

Nicknamed Dr Ice, he was crowned world champion in 2004 and starts this year's Olympic competition as one of the favourites for a medal.

He could yet be part of a double Cesena success if Britain's bobsleigh duo of Jackie Davies and Nicola Minichiello are able to live up to expectations in the women's event.

Davies, who is a corporal in the army and serves as a telecommunications technician in the Royal Signals, only took up bobsleigh in 2000.

She has developed at a rapid rate since then and, last year, her partnership with Minichiello yielded a silver medal at the World Championships, the best ever finish for a British women's team.

The pair were third at the final World Cup race before Turin and could break the usual dominance of Germany and the United States.

Rhona Martin's curling team are confident of building on Britain's Salt Lake success, while their male equivalents are also expected to go close, but Britain's best outside medal hope could well be Lesley McKenna in the snowboarding half-pipe.

McKenna, who has been hampered by injuries for the last two seasons, claimed two World Cup victories in 2003 and, if she can return to that form, a top-three finish could be within her grasp.

Looking further afield, the highlight of the Games for most armchair viewers is likely to be the ice dance. There will be no repeat of Torvill and Dean's perfect sixes, but the world's leading skaters will give fans of ITV's Dancing On Ice a glimpse of how it should really be done.

Italy's hopes of home success will be pinned on reserved slalom king Giorgio Rocca, upon whose shoulders the hopes of a nation rest.

As well as living up to the legacy of Italian legend Alberto Tomba, Rocca must cope with the expectation that has followed three successive World Cup wins.

Irina Slutskaya will hope to cap a remarkable comeback from a heart problem with a figure skating gold, while speed skaters Anni Friesinger and Cindy Klassen promise an almighty battle for the five women's long-track gold medals on offer.

And then, of course, there is always the ski jump. Enjoy watching it by all means - just don't mention Britain's most famous exponent in front of the current team.