Long before he found himself presenting BBC Ski Sunday, Graham Bell competed at five winter Olympics and he’s still regarded as one of the best downhill skiers the UK has ever produced. He retired as a professional skier in 1998 but he’s still the best person to ask about Team GB’s chances at the Sochi 2014 winter Olympics.
‘Our greatest team’ did a sterling job at London 2012. Do you think this will rub off on the Sochi 2014 winter games team?
Yes, hopefully the momentum will continue and our skiers and snowboarders will learn the winning ways and transfer them to winter sports. We have a much better chance of success in Sochi than at the last winter games – anything will be an improvement on the Vancouver games when Amy Williams brought us home one medal! Funding is an issue though. I’m a bit worried that London 2012 might have sucked up all funding and sponsorship revenue that our winter athletes need. Hopefully the opposite will happen and there’ll be increased funding off the back of the successes of our summer athletes. It would be a huge waste if the momentum were lost.
Chemmy Alcott is back on her skis following her injury and then her stint on Dancing on Ice. What are her chances of Olympic success?
I’ve not seen her ski yet this year but she must realise that this winter season is crunch time for her skiing career. She’s got to be competitive and show that she’s made a full recovery. She can’t have a slow comeback season if she wants to make it to Sochi and we’ll be able to tell early on if she’s strong enough. There are new regulations on Super G skis now though, which will probably help her. Everyone competing in the Super G will have to re-learn his or her technique so everyone is in the same boat, which should work to Chemmy’s advantage.
Who else have you got your eye on for success at Sochi 2014?
Our best skier right now is Dave Ryding. He’s a slalom specialist and has been pulling out all the stops while training and competing in New Zealand this summer. He came second, with his best ever FIS result of 9.26 in the New Zealand National Championships. Compare that to his 27th place finish in the men’s slalom and 47th in the men’s giant slalom at Vancouver 2010 and you can tell he’s on really good form. Confidence is everything in slalom racing and Dave certainly has it.
Performance drug use in sport has really come to the forefront since the Lance Armstrong episode. What are your views on drugs in winter sports?
I’ve got some quite draconian views actually. I believe that the use of performance enhancing drugs should be punishable by criminal prosecution. There should be an anti-doping criminal law in the world of professional sports and this should have been in place long before London 2012. Essentially athletes that take performance-enhancing drugs are committing sporting fraud against their sponsors, fans and fellow competitors. I don’t think there’s much of a problem in winter sports though. The so-called ‘dirty doctors’ charge something like £100k per athlete to develop new performance enhancing drugs that the testing system can’t detect or keep up with. Winter sports athletes don’t have anything like this kind of funding or sponsorship so they compete on ability, strength, performance, fitness and skill. Which makes it far more fun to watch and take part in!
Now that you mention it, it’s a while since you retired. Would you have liked to be in your skiing prime now?
As soon as I retired from ski racing I realised that I didn’t miss it at all. I’d absolutely lived and breathed the sport for so many years, fitting my life around my training regime. Every decision I made was based on my life as a professional skier. I’m more open-minded now, so I choose to take part in sport and to commentate on it. Downhill skiing has got a lot tougher and a lot more competitive in the last few years, so I’m glad I had my turn a while ago!
You’re hardly sat twiddling your thumbs though are you Graham. Tell us about the Mont Blanc Challenge?
I did it in the middle of September, fortunately missing the early snowfall by one week! The Mont Blanc Challenge is a nice road cycle ride with three big climbs, covering 176km including 4000m of vertical climbing. Its not massively steep but it is a long day out! The descent at the end was a 30km ride into the beautiful village of Bourg St Maurice – it felt amazing. I’m going to try and set up a mini sportif for next year, taking in the whole circuit around Mont Blanc, starting and finishing in Courmayeur. It could maybe be a charity thing if I got enough people involved.
And when you’re not skiing or cycling around the Alps, how do you like to unwind?
Right now my 13-year-old daughter is big into lead climbing so I like to go to the climbing wall in Reading to help and support her. I’m quite often training for an iron man competition and I like swimming in the Thames in the early morning near my home in Henley. Doing sport by choice is unwinding for me after all those years sticking to a professional training plan! I also support Caring Cancer Trust and we take a group of poorly kids to Morzine each winter for a fantastic week on the snow. Oh, and I’ve also been commentating on London 2012, which kept me busy for most of the summer.
We did wonder, how come your Ski Sunday partner in crime Ed Leigh managed to get the gig commentating on the beach volleyball while you got fencing?
Well we all know Ed likes a chat, and the beach volleyball involved hours and hours of commentary. Where as fencing didn’t! So I chose fencing as it was easier basically!
What will you and Ed be up to in this winter’s series of Ski Sunday? And when does it start?
We’ll be back on BBC 2 from Sunday 6th January. All I can say for now is that we went to Alaska to film a couple of pretty epic features, so look out for those!