Great Britain will send a team of 56 athletes to the Winter Olympics in Sochi next month after announcing its final series of selections.

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But Alpine skier TJ Baldwin, from Tharston in south Norfolk, despite being British number one, misses out after failing to reach the qualifying standard after the cancellation of a number of his targeted events.

The team, which has been set a target of at least three medals, includes four reigning world champions in curler Eve Muirhead, freestyle skier James Woods, short track speed skater Elise Christie and skeleton star Shelley Rudman.

And Rudman’s skeleton team-mate Lizzy Yarnold will go to the Games as another big favourite having won four of the seven World Cup races to date this season – and medalled in the other three.

The squad beats the number sent to Vancouver in 2010 by three and is one of Britain’s biggest in history, although exact comparisons are complicated by the status of some sports in previous Games as demonstration events.

Great Britain Chef de Mission Mike Hay believes the squad for Sochi is one of the strongest and could seriously challenge for three medals for the first time since the 1936 Games in Garmisch.

Hay said: “We understand expectations and we take it as a vote of confidence that this could be the most successful delegation since 1936. To think we could challenge for three medals shows how far we’ve come since Vancouver, because we could not have delivered that four years ago. It’s a challenge but it’s certainly possible.

“I don’t want to put undue pressure on the athletes. We don’t have the depth of other nations and we are fragile at the top and we need to stay focused.

“You don’t want to make excuses but there is an unpredictability with winter sports, they are high risk and I’m on the cautious side.”

Few if any British athletes will have gone into a Winter Games with as much expectation as Yarnold, whose performances this season have raised hopes she can become the fourth consecutive Briton to win a medal in women’s skeleton, after Rudman, 2010 gold medallist Amy Williams, and Alex Coomber, who started the streak by taking bronze in Salt Lake City in 2002.

Yarnold said: “This really is a dream come true – my whole life I have dreamt about becoming a British Olympian.”

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