sport

Eley to carry GB flag in Sochi

Jon Eley will carry the flag for Great Britain in Friday's opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The 29-year-old short-track speed-skater will be taking part in his third Winter Olympics, having also appeared at the 2006 event in Torino and Vancouver in 2010, in both of which he finished sixth in the 500m.

Solihull-born Eley became the first British short-track speed skater to win gold at a World Cup competition by claiming the 500m in Heerenveen in 2007.

In 2011, he was part of the British 5,000m relay team that broke the world record in February 2011.

"To be representing Team GB for my third time is a great honour and being selected as the flagbearer has made it unbelievable," said Eley.

"Carrying the flag I hope will not only be a very proud moment for my wife, my family and myself, but also my team-mates across Team GB - who have all made a massive contribution to my career - and my sport.

"It is an amazing privilege and a moment that I will treasure for the rest of my life, and I plan to use this opportunity to fuel my ambitions in competition and encourage my team-mates to be their best, ensuring that this is just the start of a very successful Games for myself and the rest of Team GB."

Team GB chef de mission Mike Hay said: "Jon is an excellent choice to lead Team GB into the opening ceremony in Sochi and we are very proud to have him as our flagbearer.

"Jon understands and embraces the responsibilities that come with being an Olympian and a member of Team GB. He leads through his actions and sets a positive example for our entire delegation. Jon is widely respected by his team-mates across Team GB and he is certainly deserving of this tremendous honour."

The opening ceremony takes place on Friday, but some events are taking place a day earlier.

Thursday sees four British hopefuls begin their quest for Olympic glory after UK Sport set a medal target of between three and seven.

First up, Billy Morgan and Jamie Nicholls take part in a competition making its debut at the Winter Olympics - the slopestyle snowboarding event. Following the men's qualification, the women's takes place with both Jenny Jones and Aimee Fuller carrying home hopes.

Elsewhere, there is qualification for the figure skating and freestyle skiing.

Much of the build-up to the event has focused on surrounding issues such as venue delays, social unrest and security as Russia finds itself under the gaze of the sporting world.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has taken some serious measures to ensure he makes good his guarantee of athlete safety - with Sochi effectively cut off from the outside world by the closure of roads and strict checkpoints.

Meanwhile, protests have been staged by gay rights activists, who are continuing to urge the Games' chief sponsors to speak out against Russia's controversial new laws on homosexuality.

Better news for the Russian government has come from International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, who has reassured those worried about the delays in venue construction that "the Olympic stage is set and the Olympic stage is ready for the best winter athletes of the world."