Team GB squad announced for Sochi

Great Britain will send a team of 56 athletes to the Winter Olympics in Sochi next month after announcing its final series of selections on Wednesday.

The team, which has been set a target of at least three medals, includes four reigning world champions in curler Eve Muirhead, freestyle skier James Woods, short track speed skater Elise Christie and skeleton star Shelley Rudman.

And Rudman's skeleton team-mate Lizzy Yarnold will go to the Games as another big favourite having won four of the seven World Cup races to date this season - and medalled in the other three.

The squad beats the number sent to Vancouver in 2010 by three and is one of Britain's biggest in history, although exact comparisons are complicated by the status of some sports in previous Games as demonstration events.

Great Britain Chef de Mission Mike Hay believes the squad for Sochi is one of the strongest and could seriously challenge for three medals for the first time since the 1936 Games in Garmisch.

Hay said: "We understand expectations and we take it as a vote of confidence that this could be the most successful delegation since 1936.

"To think we could challenge for three medals shows how far we've come since Vancouver, because we could not have delivered that four years ago. It's a challenge but it's certainly possible.

"I don't want to put undue pressure on the athletes. We don't have the depth of other nations and we are fragile at the top and we need to stay focused.

"You don't want to make excuses but there is an unpredictability with winter sports, they are high risk and I'm on the cautious side."

Few if any British athletes will have gone into a Winter Games with as much expectation as Yarnold, whose performances this season have raised hopes she can become the fourth consecutive Briton to win a medal in women's skeleton, after Rudman, 2010 gold medallist Amy Williams, and Alex Coomber, who started the streak by taking bronze in Salt Lake City in 2002.

Yarnold said: "This really is a dream come true - my whole life I have dreamt about becoming a British Olympian and for the last five years since I took up skeleton, competing at Sochi 2014 has been my primary focus.

"This season has been great for my preparation, I am in a good place both physically and mentally, and I can't wait to get back on the Sochi track, go over the lines and maintain my focus.

"I don't take part in races to come second, so I will approach the Olympic Winter Games as I do every race and give it everything I've got."

Big hopes also revolve around the 13-strong freestyle ski and snowboard teams which have secured a series of podium finishes over the past two seasons including an overall ski slopestyle World Cup title for Woods.

Woods said: "I am always incredibly proud to represent the United Kingdom in everything I do. To be given the opportunity to go to the Winter Olympics to do just that is amazing."

There was relief for skier Chemmy Alcott, who will go to her fourth Olympics after convincing the Great Britain selectors that she is fit enough to compete.

The 31-year-old Londoner broke her leg for the third time in August 2012 and only returned to full-time training in December.

Alcott, who will be joined by slalom skier Dave Ryding at the Games, said: "I am so excited and thankful to have been named in today's fantastically strong and competitive Team GB for next month's Winter Olympics.

"Since Vancouver I have done everything I could have done to be in Russia. Preparations were far from ideal but with my self-belief and confidence and support I can't wait to get into that Olympic start-gate."

Selection also represents a remarkable feat for Great Britain four-man bobsleigh pilot John Jackson, who snapped his Achilles tendon during summer training but battled back to claim a World Cup silver medal in Lake Placid in December.

For the first time since 2002, Team GB will have two four-man squads at the Games after Lamin Deen's GB2 sled squeezed into a qualification place following a hectic final weekend on the World Cup circuit.

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