Faster, younger, more female: Team GB shows its Olympic hand

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Britain took an early Olympic lead yesterday by being the first nation to register its full line-up of competitors with the London Organising Committee. The 542-strong Team GB includes a record number of female athletes, of whom the youngest is 15-year-old Rebecca Tunney, a gymnast

While most 15-year-old girls enjoy a relaxing break from school this summer, Rebecca Tunney will be taking on the world's finest athletes in front of a television audience of millions. Yesterday the teenage gymnast from Manchester became the youngest Briton to be included in an Olympic squad for more than 100 years.

Rebecca, who is just 4ft 9in tall, is one of a record 262 female athletes who have secured a place in Team GB for the London Games – 143 more than travelled to Beijing four years ago, taking the proportion of female athletes from 46 to 48 per cent.

The full 542-name list of Team GB competitors was announced yesterday, as the British Olympic Association became the first country to register its squad with the London Organising Committee and officially enter the games. Andy Hunt, the TeamGB chef de mission, said he was "particularly delighted" by the number of women in the team.

He added: "We have seen women from Great Britain and Northern Ireland at the forefront of Olympic sports over the past four years and I believe that, together with their male teammates, and with the support of the nation behind them, they will unite the country and inspire many future generations with their performances this summer."

Rebecca, who was recently crowned British champion in her first year of senior competition, trains at the same Liverpool club as Beth Tweddle, the team's experienced 27-year-old captain.

Her friends have given her the nickname "Twiglet", apparently because of her short stature and knobbly knees. "I am not 5ft, I have been told that I am not even going to reach 5ft. My mum is quite small, too," she said at last month's British Championships.

Rules state that competitors must turn 16 in Olympic year to be eligible. Rebecca's birthday is on October 26.

The 542 athletes will be joined by 519 support staff and 300 volunteers to complete a 1,360-strong Team GB delegation.

Only at the 1908 Olympic Games in London, where 676 athletes represented Great Britain, did the UK have a larger team. At the last Olympics in Beijing, the UK entered 311 athletes.

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