Georgie Harland can still vividly recall the sliding doors moment, aged 10, when the opening ceremony of the 1988 Seoul Olympics flashed up on the television screen in the kitchen of her Kent home. “That was it – I was completely taken in by the Olympics,” she says. “I clearly remember the Union flag and all these countries coming together. I created a scrapbook of the Seoul Games. The Olympics became a dream of mine.”
32 years on, and it can be revealed that Harland will create her own slice of Olympic history. She has been appointed Team GB’s Chef de Mission for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and so will become the first woman to take on that prestigious position in the entire 124 years of the Games.
After winning bronze in the modern pentathlon in 2004, she is also the first Olympic medallist to assume a role that places her in charge of the planning, preparation and execution of Team GB’s participation at the XXIV Winter Olympics in February 2022.
“I’m absolutely delighted and extremely honoured,” she said. “The pinnacle is to compete for your country – this is the next best thing. I’ve worked with some amazing mentors who have led me to this position. It’s not the defining factor that I’m a woman coming into this Chef role but I do feel proud of that fact.”
With the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics also likely to become the first Games in which Team GB sends more female than male athletes, it is a fact that also further underlines past inequalities. Harland, after all, was a travelling reserve for the 2000 Sydney Games when the modern pentathlon was opened to women for the first time since becoming a core Olympic event some 88 years earlier in 1912.
“That is quite staggering when you reflect,” she says. “It is getting nearer to gender equality across the Games and it has moved a long way but there is still a shift to go for complete parity.” Having worked for the British Olympic Association for the past decade and been Deputy Chef de Mission at the 2016 summer games in Rio, Harland has already been instrumental in Team GB’s extraordinary rise to Olympic super power.