OLYMPIC GAMES: Plenty of possibles but no probables

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The Independent Online
The past 12 months have been such a roller-coaster for Britain's team that the manager, Neil Adams, might just as well invoke an astrologer as make meaningful predictions about medals in Atlanta. In October last year, the team bombed at the World Championships, with just one bronze from the veteran Sharon Rendle, the former featherweight world champion.

Then, in May at the European Championships in Hague, there was a glut of medals, two gold, two silver and three bronze. So what about the Olympics?

"I am confident that we will produce medals - as we always do in judo - but I can also say honestly that they could come from any member of the team," Adams said.

The problem is the abundance of possibles and the shortage of probables. In Barcelona, there were three, four even five sure-fire probables in the women's team from a team of seven: Karen Briggs, Sharon Rendle, Nicola Fairbrother, Diane Bell and Kate Howey. Any one of them could have won that precious Olympic gold that has never come to Britain. In the event, they produced four medals though not one gold, Fairbrother coming closest with a silver.

It is significant, in many ways, that four of those fighters - Karen Briggs has retired - will be in Atlanta and are all still in contention. Yet none, it must be said, are as strong and commanding as they once were.

The wild card in the women's team is the 19-year-old newcomer, Michelle Rogers, from Manchester, who burst upon the heavyweight scene in May by winning a bronze at the European Championships.

The greatest surprise this year has been the medal performance of the men. Bantamweight Nigel Donohue, featherweight Julian Davies and lightweight Danny Kingston all won medals at tough international tournaments and confirmed their status by reaching the finals at the Europeans.

But the sheer unpredictability of Britain's performance can be best illustrated by the light heavyweight silver medal won by Ray Stevens at Barcelona. He came off the osteopath's bench to storm through when everyone thought he was there just to fill in the numbers. He is in Atlanta but he is 32. There is no way he can do it again.

Can he?

GREAT BRITAIN: Men: R Birch (middleweight), J Davies (half-lightweight), N Donohue (extra lightweight), D Kingston (lightweight), G Randall (half- middleweight), R Stevens (half-heavyweight). Women: D Bell (half-middleweight), N Fairbrother (lightweight), J Heron (extra lightweight), K Howey (half- heavyweight), S Rendle (half-lightweight), M Rogers (heavyweight), R Sweatman (middleweight).