Olympics: Redgrave makes giant strides for Team 2012

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The Independent Online

Sir Steve Redgrave's somewhat lofty ambition to prove his theory that "if you're big enough, you're good enough" took one almighty step forward yesterday with the announcement that his "Sporting Giants" initiative has added 34 rowers, 11 handball players and seven volleyball players to the national squads.

As everything seems to be in British sport nowadays, Redgrave's project was set up with the 2012 Olympics in mind, although even the five-times gold medallist must have been surprised at the reaction to the nationwide appeal he made at a much-ridiculed launch in Trafalgar Square a year ago.

In all, 3,854 applications were received, which is some response, considering the strict restrictions placed on the candidates. Men had to measure at least 6ft 3in, while the cut-off mark for women was 5ft 11in. Furthermore, they had to be between 16 and 25 and have good, all-round athletic ability. A tall order if ever there was one.

Although perhaps not, if the initial interest and staggering conversion rate are reliable gauges. "This was a mild shake of the tree – we looked under a few rocks and look what we found," Redgrave said. "This was all about finding tall people who had the right characteristics and some of the hidden talent that has emerged is incredible. I shouldn't be too shocked, though, because I never thought I would row until my first coach came along and asked me to have a go. Years later I asked him, 'Why did you pick me?' He said, 'Well, you had big hands and big feet'."

At 6ft 9in, the 17-year-old Chris Gregory can boast two pairs of those and very useful they have proved, too, in propelling him into the British volleyball squad. Like Stuart Campbell, a 25-year-old who was working as a bricklayer when his father heard Redgrave's call to the skyscrapers on the radio, Gregory knew nothing about the sport for which he is deemed ideal. "I had never seen a handball court before Sporting Giants," said Campbell, now at the British handball academy in Denmark. "But we're not just here to make up the numbers – we're here to win medals."

Indeed, Redgrave would doubtless claim that is what they were born for, which would be apt as the selection procedures have come straight from an Aldous Huxley novel. There were two stages of testing at six rowing centres, four for would-be handball players and three for volleyball. State-of-the-art equipment instructed the sporting overlords who would be up for it – and who would fall miserably short.

Alas, not all the applicants were totally honest and a few platform-heeled impostors tiptoed through. At least six did not satisfy the height criterion and added the odd inch to their forms. They were still tested, however, and have since graduated to the British canoeing squad. That is not big. But it is clever.

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