12 for 2012: Britain's top prospects
Monday marks three years until London hosts the Olympic Games. Tom Knight pans for gold by running the rule over Britain's top dozen prospects – from diving to BMX and beyond
Saturday 25 July 2009
Once saddled with the moniker of "Diver Boy" at his previous school, the phenomenon that is 15-year-old Tom Daley had the last laugh on the bullies that made life so difficult by becoming Britain's first-ever world champion in Rome last week.
Mature beyond his years and now studying alongside other talented athletes at Plymouth College, Daley won the 10-metre event with a superb display. He admitted afterwards that he will have to take his diving beyond the current degree of difficulty of 3.4 in order to progress. He and his coach, Andy Banks will soon start work on the new routines that should take Daley into the London Games as one of Britain's gold medal favourites. He will be 18 then and doubtless more skilled in avoiding the embarrassing post-event hugs demanded in Rome by his doting dad.
The first woman to win Olympic gold in the pool since Anita Lonsbrough triumphed in 1960, Adlington came away from Beijing with the 400m and 800m freestyle titles and has admitted to already being gripped by London 2012 fever. As in so many sports, however, four years is a long time in swimming and Britain's golden girl faces a tough battle to repeat her historic feat. Not only does she face stiff competition from her British rival Jo Jackson but she has also refused to wear the second generation of super-fast swimsuits, a development she has likened to "technological doping". Mansfield's finest competes again tomorrow in the world championships in Rome.
The best BMX rider in the world failed to capitalise on her prowess in Beijing when, with only gold on her mind, she went for broke in the final and crashed. Her reputation took a bruising but not her talent and Reade could make an impact in London on the track as well as the rollercoaster trails of BMX. Earlier this year, she took silver with Victoria Pendleton in the Team Sprint at the track world championships. A shoulder injury sustained during training in May means she misses the current BMX world championships in Adelaide, Australia.
At a time when the lottery funders were fast-losing faith with his sport, Lewis Smith upset the formbooks and impressed the high-flying Chinese to take bronze in the pommel horse in Beijing. The softly spoken and intelligent youngster thus became the first Briton to win an individual Olympic gymnastics medal since 1908. Now in training in Huntingdon for the world championships at the O2 Arena in October, Lewis could yet make headlines away from the sweaty confines of the gym. An enthusiastic singer, he is said to be progressing through the various auditions for this year's "X Factor". One of his best pals has already achieved success through the show as a member of the group, JLS.
As a 17 year-old, Cook was an unlikely looking fighter going into the Beijing Games but no one should be deceived. The youngster from Dorset, whose parents moved north so that he could train with Britain's elite squad in Manchester is committed to the cause of winning medals. The first British man to win a world junior taekwondo title did shed a few tears in Beijing but only out of frustration at the scoring system as he was denied a place in the final.
If ever British sport has a master at his craft, then it is Ainslie, the nice guy with the killer instinct on the waves. A three-time Olympic gold medallist who also claimed a silver medal in Atlanta in 1996, Ainslie will go for his fifth Games as the sailing takes place in Weymouth in 2012. Before then, he will be part of the British challenge for the 33rd America's Cup and recently took the helm as one of a 16-man crew aboard the victorious Alpha Romeo in the Transpacific Yacht Race.
Try as she might and even allowing for the unfortunate doping ban controversy that dogs her every move, Ohuruogu cannot escape the fact that she will go into the London Olympics as the athlete facing the greatest pressure. The spectre of Cathy Freeman's heroics in the 400m for Australia in Sydney will be a constant companion for Britain's only gold medallist on the track in Beijing. At her best, there are few who can consider beating the powerfully built Ohuruogu but there are signs already, however, that the east Londoner's progress to 2012 will not be without its problems. With the world championships in Berlin less than three weeks away, Ohuruogu is struggling with a hamstring injury and has already missed some important races.
Cruelly denied a chance to shine at the Beijing Olympics because of a serious foot injury sustained during a competition in Gotzis, Austria, in the run-up to the Games, Ennis has bounced back with a vengeance. The 23-year-old heptathlete, who studied for her psychology degree at her hometown university of Sheffield so that there would be no interruption to her training, is in the form of her life and goes to next month's world championships in Berlin as one of Britain's few real medal hopes. What she lacks in height, she more than makes up for in talent. Proof of that invariably comes in the high jump where, last year, she equalled the British record at 1.95m. A worthy successor to Denise Lewis, who won in Sydney in 2000.
World-ranked number one prior to next month's world championships at Crystal Palace, Fell continued the sport's run of success at the Olympics by winning the silver medal in Beijing. In the three Games that women have competed in the five-discipline event, Steph Cook took gold and Kate Allenby bronze in Sydney while Georgina Harland added another bronze in Athens. If Fell decides to continue to 2012, there is little to suggest that she cannot win more medals although she would be the first to admit that it has taken her a while to come to terms with the combined run and shoot format that became standard in the sport at the start of this year. Competition for Olympic selection will be fierce, with newcomer, Freyja Prentice among those challenging for a place.
Still only 21, Kenny's rise through the ranks has been sensational. The Bolton-born rider won an Olympic gold medal alongside Chris Hoy and Jamie Staff in the team sprint in Beijing, a mere three and a half years after he was competing on the domestic junior circuit. Kenny also took silver behind the legendary Hoy in the individual sprint. The finely-tuned system at British Cycling will ensure that the sport can look forward to continuing its domination of the track in London. While Hoy has had to endure injury and the obligatory breakfast cereal ad campaigns since Beijing, Kenny has been back on the track and winning medals, albeit only silvers at the recent European Championships in Minsk.
This fledgling sport has promised much and delivered little so far at Olympic level. Much will be expected in London in 2012. Brownlee comes into the frame with good credentials, having finished 12th and top Briton in Beijing. A straight A student whose parents are both doctors, he gave up a medical degree course at Cambridge to return to his home-town university in Leeds to concentrate on preparing for 2012. The 21-year-old former athlete was a world and European junior champion in 2006. He went on to secure the world under-23 title in 2008. His 2009 campaign is going well with a hat-trick of victories in the ITU World Championship series. After four of the eight races in the series, Brownlee is ranked number one.
If athletics is going to raise its game in London, then the hope will be that characters like Idowu can stick around. Colourful and sometimes unpredictable, the basketball-loving triple jumper has lived in the shadow of Jonathan Edwards for too long. He went to Beijing as a gold medal hope and to fall short by just five centimetres was a crushing disappointment. His only global title remains the one he won indoors in 2008 though he has the chance to underline his credentials at next month's outdoor championships in Berlin. He could reduce the weight he has to carry by removing some of his jewellery but his main objective will be to remain fit and healthy for another three years in what is a notoriously demanding discipline.
Counting down: How to make an impact at London 2012
Q. How do I get involved?
A. You might have thought you'd need to get your skates on, but not necessarily just yet. If you think your business can contribute to the Olympic effort, bids are still being accepted at http://www.london2012.com/get-involved/business-network/index.php. If you want to be a volunteer, you'll have to wait until November 2011, when the organisers start recruiting. At that point, it's first come, first served.
Q. If I'm British and want to compete, which sport should I enter?
A. Choose carefully. Team GB boasts some excellent competitors, not just in the main sports but in more minor pastimes too. Paralympic teams are possibly even harder than Olympic teams to break into, because of the determination of established competitors. Among the main sports, the only sensible advice is play to your strengths. Strong back and shoulders? Try Judo. Great hand-eye co-ordination? Give Archery a go (but be warned, we're already very good at it).
Q. What will happen to all the steel from the Olympic stadium when it is dismantled?
A. About 10,000 tonnes of tubular steel have been imported for the purposes of building the upper tier of the main Olympic stadium. This is the stadium, of course, which will be reduced from its Games capacity of 80,000 down to 25,000. It's possible that the steel will be retained and shipped to the city that wins the bid for 2016.
Q. At what point during the opening ceremony are we most likely to screw things up?
A. We could get any number of things wrong. The arrow that finally takes the flame and lights the Olympic torch is always a nervy moment, but just getting the flame there in the first place won't be easy, what with protestors seeing it as an easy and high profile target. The other big worry is that London is planning a much smaller ceremony than Beijing, but with co-ordinated events right across the capital, which will be difficult to get to work in sync.
Q. How many shoes are going to be manufactured for use?
A. A Chinese newspaper undertook the curious task, ahead of the Beijing Games, to calculate the volume of footwear that competitors will use. This accounted for the fact that athletes, more than swimmers for example, use more. On average, competitors get through seven pairs of trainers over the two weeks. Multiply this by the total number of athletes, 17,000, and you see that 119,000 pairs of shoes will be made.
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