Winter Olympic dreams - could it all start with a simple sledge?

Jamie Nicholls
Jamie Nicholls
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Today sees the start of another sporting spectacle, the Winter Olympic Games at Sochi in Russia - an event that will see over 90 nations compete for medals in a series of games where the backdrop to everything will be the frozen conditions supplied by Mother Nature.

In terms of sheer bravado and nerve, the speed and dexterity of winter sports is arguably even more compelling than the achievements made in the summer games.

Family at leisure

Family at leisure

Bobsleighs can reach speeds in excess of 120kph while the men’s record for speed skating is over 52mph.

In a country with no significant history of winter sports achievement (Torvill and Dean being an exception), it’s easy to look upon winter fun and games as being the preserve of Nordic countries or central Europeans.

But why? Part of the problem is the curse of modern health and safety, whereby any activity that has the remotest chance of causing the smallest of physical traumas is deemed unsafe or too risky.

Yet it’s the thrill of risk and the adrenaline pumping fear of not losing control that, for many of today’s winter Olympic athletes, is the reason why they became addicted to their chosen sport in the first place.

A study published by JCB Kids in April 2013, to mark its Fresh Air campaign, found that 43 per cent of children would rather watch TV than go outside to play with friends.

Unsurprisingly, the second most popular reason for hanging about indoors was to play computer games.

Staggeringly, children said they even preferred doing household chores or their homework to being outside!

Sam Johnson, spokesperson for JCB Kids, said: ‘It is alarming the extent to which today’s children are missing out on the outdoor play time which we enjoyed as children.

‘Playing outdoors is so important for children - not only to help them stay active and healthy, but also to socialise with friends - and create those treasured childhood memories which we look back on so fondly.’

For many children of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, way before the advent of the internet, winter provided a great free outdoor playground where sledges were made with old bits of wood and hours were spent shivering in duffle coats making snowmen or igloos. And despite modern critics who dismiss the baby boomer generation for looking back through rose tinted nostalgic spectacles, the truth of the matter is that we did have simple, innocent fun.

We also learnt about risk through injury and also came to respect the real dangers that winter can bring, such as skating on thin ice.

At Eureka! we believe that every season offers all of us the chance to enjoy the great outdoors which is why our outdoor playscape is as important as our galleries.

And when it does snow we have a great expanse of grass, with a mix of slopes and gradients that, who knows, might just inspire our next downhill skier, luge or skeleton racer.

At Sochi, Britain’s medal hopes are said to be a very modest three, if we’re lucky ( fingers crossed for Queensbury snowboarder Jamie Nicholl).

While we’ll never beat nations like Canada and Norway, where snow is an everyday part of life, we should at least get off the sofa when the first snowflakes come our way, get some fresh winter exercise and play our own version of the winter Olympic Games.