Hockey: Britain's sharpshooter locked on target for Olympic spree

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In a quest to improve the goal-scoring strike rate of the Great Britain men's hockey side, David Whittle, the manager, has been using a speed gun to clock Calum Giles' shooting from penalty corners during training this week at Bisham Abbey, writes Bill Colwill.

The management of the Great Britain squad, who today meet Italy in their final international before departing for Atlanta on Sunday, borrowed the Unipar speed gun from the Lawn Tennis Association.

Giles is in the team specifically to convert penalty corners. He dashes from the team bench when a corner is awarded to do his deadly striking. Some coaches have doubted the validity of employing a person just to attempt to convert penalty corners, claiming it is ethically wrong. A Dutch coach went as far as saying it was a form of cheating.

David Whitaker, the former England and Great Britain coach, took the view that if the rules of the game allow it, and he could turn it to Britain's advantage, then he would do so. Giles met with immediate success: his nine goals in his first major tournament - the European Cup in Dublin last summer - during England's seven games made him the first Englishman to win the European Cup top goal-scorer trophy.

Further success followed, notably in the Olympic qualifying competition in Barcelona earlier this year when he netted eight of Britain's 17 goals. Since Barcelona things have not been going well for the 23-year-old from Havant, though. First a hernia operation, then a change of sticks, then hiccups in the corner drill involving push-outs and stick stopping, with the result that he has now failed to score in his last five internationals. Worse still, goals have been in short supply from the rest of the team. In the initial practice sessions at Bisham, Russell Garcia, the surviving gold medallist from the Seoul Olympics, had the edge on Giles and was averaging in excess of 60 miles per hour. Undaunted, Giles has pressed on with his regular practising, and yesterday he achieved a 62.9mph strike as he regularly flashed the ball past the goalkeepers Simon Mason and David Lucks.

Whittle said there was pressure on Giles to justify his selection and keep face with his team-mates. If the help of the gun and competition from Garcia has turned the corner for Giles, Britain's Atlanta prospects will be significantly improved.

Photograph: Robert Hallam