A FORMER Great Britain skier from Henley who features in new TV show The Jump says it will increase interest in the forthcoming winter Olympics.
Graham Bell, of New Street, is a performance director on the Channel 4 show, which started on Monday.
His role is to help the celebrity contestants, who include Henley Royal Regatta vice-chairman Sir Steve Redgrave, reality TV star Amy Childs, cricketer Darren Gough, 5ive singer Ritchie Neville and TV presenter Anthea Turner to master different winter sports.
The nightly show was scheduled just before the start of the Games in Sochi, Russia, next Friday.
Bell, 48, who competed at five Olympics, said: “It has widened the audience for winter sports just before the Games, which is great.
“Fans of Amy Childs might not necessarily tune into Ski Sunday or the winter Olympics so it’s just getting the message out about winter sports for people who wouldn’t normally know about them. In that sense, any professional or anyone who earns money in the field of winter sports has to be glad it’s on TV.”
Bell has been involved in the programme since training began in Hemel Hempstead in November before filming moved to Kuhtai in Austria.
Each night, the contestants compete in a different discipline, including the skeleton, bobsleigh, speed skating, ski-cross and slalom. The two slowest finishers must then attempt to achieve the highest complete jump on a slope.
Bell said: “I told the producers when we first got the idea that if I took a group of 12 young ski racers and got them to do all the sports they were suggesting that I could guarantee one of them would get injured.
“The potential for a fall or crash is high. You aren’t talking about big injuries but broken collar bones or hands or twisted ankles.”
He said there were several celebrities who had never skied before but that Neville, who married Australian model Emily Scott in Henley six years ago, was a quick learner.
“Ritchie didn’t actually have much training time because when we started he was still on his comeback tour with 5ive,” he said. “It was touch and go whether he would make it up to the level but when we got to Austria he came on in leaps and bounds. He’s definitely the most improved.
“He had a brilliant jump on the first night. It was just a small jump but hopefully with a bit more training he will go to the middle slope.”
Bell enjoyed working with Sir Steve, whom he has known for years and they both competed in Celebrity Gladiators in 1992. Sir Steve, a five-times Olympic champion, initially struggled with his flexibility but it didn’t prevent him winning the giant slalom on the opening night of the show.
He finished second bottom in the skeleton on Tuesday night but beat Gough in the jump by 2.5m while wearing a ski suit decorated with five gold medals.
Bell called him “by far the most competitive person I’ve ever met”.
He said: “He’s really into his skiing. He’s very competitive and very driven. He’ll want to win definitely.
“Steve’s pretty good at all the disciplines but the weakest thing is his jumping. When he got into this he said he had never really taken to the air on skis. He could hang around to the final but when the jump starts to ramp up towards the end he might struggle.”
Bell tipped Kimberly Wyatt, a former member of the Pussycat Dolls, as a potential winner. He said: “She’s the easiest to coach, not just because she’s easy on the eye, but also she takes instructions very well. You tell her to do something and she does it.”
Bell, who retired from professional skiing in 1998 and now presents Ski Sunday, will be commentating at the winter Olympics but said The Jump was an enjoyable experience.
“I’m really glad that I’m part of it and am looking forward to the other events,” he said. “I can’t wait to see the short track speed skating, which is the first time they go head-to-head rather than in a time trial. It’s going to be hilarious. They’re ramping up to the final when it’s all settled on the ski jump. I hope the audiences are as enthralled as I am.”
Bell’s wife Sarah and children Louis and Lottie were due to arrive in Austria yesterday (Thursday) and will stay until the final episode on Monday.
He said: “I think Lottie wants to go off the jump but when she sees the big one she will probably change her mind.”
The Jump is on Channel 4 tonight (Friday), Sunday and Monday at 9pm.