23 Days in July is already the title of a book. That book recalls the story of Lance Armstrong’s record breaking 6th Tour de France victory. However following Bradley Wiggins’ first victory in the world’s most famous bike race it could be the title of a new book. That book would tell the story of how road racing and the Tour De France went from being an event which most Brits forgot about to one that everyone in Great Britain sat up and watched.
When Bradley Wiggins took the roll out in Liege on 29th June most people in Britain had only heard of him briefly for his exploits on the track at the Olympics. But a week later he took the leaders jersey and by the time he entered Paris the race, Wiggins and cycling was on the lips of everyone in Great Britain. Newspapers went from covering the sport of professional cycling in a side bar to multi page spreads on both the back and front pages.
Wiggins, Team Sky and British Cycling by winning the Tour De France not only propelled the sport in Great Britain but also proved how setting a goal and taking small steps can pay dividends.
It is a model that ice hockey in the Great Britain needs to follow. IHUK need to set a goal of making the World Championships within 5 years and then the Winter Olympics. It is all right setting this target but they need to work with both the Elite League and the national bodies to produce a structure for lowering import levels, improve coaching at all levels and promoting the sport.
It will not be an easy task. British Cycling in 2011 had an income over £20 million far in advance of IHUK. British Cycling also benefitted from a string of poster athletes. Chris Hoy, Mark Cavendish, Victoria Pendleton and now Bradley Wiggins have all had success that has hit the main stream. Whereas British ice hockey has not had the same success to gave around to promote the sport.
Tony Hand was that person in the 1980’s by being drafted to the NHL and the opportunity to exploit Jonathan Weaver, Colin Shields and David Philips trips to the North American leagues has now passed. There is a light on the horizon though. The decision of the IIHF to confirm Liam Stewart as a British player means that the Spokane Chiefs forward could be that poster player.
Stewart will be eligible for the 2013 NHL draft and should he be drafted would provide an excellent spring board for IHUK to promote the sport and create a bandwagon effect similar to that of British Cycling’s around its top athletes.