Olympics Preview 2008

So how will Great Britain fare at the most important sporting event of 2008, the Olympic Games in Beijing? Will our athletes secure a record haul of medals to leave us punching the air in delight, or will they struggle and leave us punching the cushions in frustration?


ATHLETICS

The worlds pre-eminent marathon runner Paula Radcliffe failed to finish the 26.2-mile course in Athens, or indeed the subsequent 10,000 metres final. Radcliffe, who recovered from her trauma to win the New York marathon, the 2005world title and, after a near two-year maternity absence, New York again last November, is keeping her eyes on the road for these Games. But the smoggy conditions may aggravate her tendency to asthma, especially if it is cold, and she also faces a resurgent defending champion in Japans Mizuki Noguchi and theasyet unknown threat of the home contingent. The best dont always win at the Olympics.

If Christine Ohuruogu wants to match her astounding 2007 world championship victory with another gold in Beijing, she must first work out a way to defeat Sanya Richards of the United States, who failed to qualify for the world 400m but ended the seasonas the events No 1. Ohuruogu must also fend off the potent challenge of a fellow Briton, Nicola Sanders.

Phillips Idowu, on his day, can beat any triple jumper in the world. But will his day coincide with the Olympics? Nathan Douglas also has the talent to figure.

Jessica Ennis has followed a steep upward trajectory in the heptathlon since taking silver behind the Athens bronze medallist Kelly Sotherton at the 2006 Commonwealth Games but the latter, a terrific competitor whose challenge is perennially flawed by a poor javelin throw, still has an edge.

Mo Farah, European 5,000m silver medallist and cross-country champion in 2006, is now in the big league but it is a very big league and he still has ground to make up on the leaders.

Becky Lyne showed in winning the European 800m bronze in 2006 that she had the steel to compete but she suffered metal fatigue throughout 2007 and also stands just one missed unannounced drugs test away from potential calamity.

The relays offer a clear chance of further medals, with the mens 4 x 100m and womens 4 x 400m the obvious prime areas of opportunity.

Medal prospects: Five
Golden prospect: Paula Radcliffe

ROWING

Having won medals in seven Olympic classes at last years world championships in Munich, including two golds, Britains rowers are gliding confidently towards a successful Games in Beijing although their flagship, the mens coxless four, caught a worrying crab by finishing only fourth at the worlds while seeking a hat-trick of titles.

The golds were contributed by the womens quadruple scull for a third successive year and the lightweight mens four. Bronze medals were earned by Colin Smith and Matt Langridge in the pairs and Elise Laverick and Anna Bebington in the double sculls and by the mens andwomens eights and the mens lightweight doubles. The performance director, David Tanner, described the overall effort as totally exceptional.

The target of three medals in Beijing looks comfortably within reach, and the favourites to contribute gold now appear tobe the all-conquering quartet of Katherine Grainger, Fran Houghton, Debbie Flood and the newcomer Annie Vernon.

Vernon displaced Sarah Winckless this year but the more experienced rower is back to full fitness and the trials which conclude in March could prove interesting. Bebington and Laverick will also be contributing to the complexity of the selection choices.

There may also be difficult decisions ahead for the head coach, Jrgen Grobler, as he ponders whether to keep faith with the coxless four of Andy Hodge, Peter Reed, Alex Partridge and Steve Williams, which had been unbeaten since 2004.

Medal prospects: Five
Golden prospects: Womens quadruple sculls; mens four

EQUESTRIANISM

Eventing proved Britains outstanding area of equine performance at the Athens Olympics, with Leslie Law winning gold, Pippa Funnell bronze and the team taking silver. The prospects for a repeat performance are realistic, given that Britain won the team title at last years European Championships, with Mary King earning individual silver.

Although the 2006 BBC Sports Personality of the Year, Zara Phillips, failed to retain her European title after her horse, Toytown, refused a barrier during the show jumping, her world and European victories have clearly established her as a redoubtable Olympic contender. Australia, New Zealand and the United States look likely to provide the main opposition.

Show jumping also promises tangible rewards at the equestrian Olympic venue, in Hong Kong. A clear round by John Whitaker on Peppermill brought Britain team bronze at the European Championships in Germany the first British medal won there in a decade.

Medal prospects: Three
Golden prospect: Eventing team

CYCLING

The wheels that started turning at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where Jason Queally took gold in the kilo on the opening day of acampaign that secured a gold, asilver and two bronzes, continued to spin in Athens, where Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins contributed golds in the time trial and individual pursuit and the team added a silver and bronze.

Now, if the 2007 world championships are anything to go by, they are turning even faster. Under the guidance of the performance director, Dave Brailsford, Britain won 11 medals in Mallorca, seven of them gold, to announce themselves as the dominant global force in track cycling.

Victoria Pendleton, who took gold in the keirin, the individual sprint and the team sprint in partnership with newcomer Shanaze Reade, will seek four golds at this years world championships, but reorganisations to the Olympic programme mean she has no margin for error, with only the individual sprint to go for. That rejig will helpReade, however, as the new BMX event is her speciality. She has medal chances.

Wiggins, despite his excursions on the Tour de France, remains the pre-eminent pursuit rider in the world and looks in ideal shape to retain his individual title and to inspire the team to go one better than they managed in Athens

Like Pendleton, Hoy has found himself cycle clipped by the Olympic programme, as it no longer includes the 1km time trial. He will be a strong favourite in the keirin but will be no alternative chance as an individual, although he will ride in the team sprint, in which he won silver at the worlds with Queally and Chris MacLean.

On the roads, Nicole Cookes chances of improving on the fifth place she achieved in Athens are likely to be strengthened by the creation of a British team to support her

Medal prospects: Six
Golden prospects: Bradley Wiggins; team pursuit; Chris Hoy; Victoria Pendleton

BOXING

Amir Khan took lightweight silver as Britains sole representative in Athens. There will be more of a crowd in Beijing, with medal possibilities resting upon Frankie Gavin , who recently became the first Briton to be crowned world amateur champion also at lightweight. Bronze medallists Joe Murray (bantamweight) and Bradley Saunders (light-welterweight) will also fancy their chances, as will the fast-rising light-heavyweight prospect, Tony Jeffries.

Medal prospects: Two
Golden prospect: Frankie Gavin

SAILING

Ben Ainslies recent victory in the Sydney Olympic trials makes it likely that he will seek his third Olympic gold in defending his Finn title. You wouldnt bet against him. Sailing has performed buoyantly at the last two Olympics and Sarah Ayton and Sarah Webb, who won the Yngling class with a previous Olympic champion, Shirley Robertson, in Athens, look in prime position to do the same again with a new crew-mate, Pippa Wilson, having won both the world title and the Olympic test event.

The pairing of Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes have achieved the same double in the 49ers category and also appear strong contenders, as does Paul Goodison, fifth in the world championships and the winner ofhis Olympic trial event, in the Laser class. The pairing of Iain Percy the 2000 Olympic Finn champion and Andrew Simpson is an outside bet in the Star class.

Medal prospects: Four
Golden prospects: Womens Yngling; Ben Ainslie

BADMINTON

Gail Emms and Nathan Robertson were just four points away from Olympic gold in Athens 11-8 up against the Chinese pair of Zhang Hun and Gao Ling but could not win.

Since then the British pair have won the world and All England titles and they will be giving their all in what will be their final outing as a pair in a tournament where the hosts are seeking to sweep the board.

Medal prospect: One
Golden prospect: Gail Emms and Nathan Robertson

SWIMMING

After the failure to gain any medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, British swimming turned to Australias nononsense Bill Sweetenham as performance director. But despite winning eight medals at the 2003 world championships, only two turned up in Athens the next year, both of them bronze.

David Davies, who won one of those bronzes in the 1500m, is hoping to upgrade this time round as the legendary Grant Hackett of Australia seeks to extend his Olympic domination. It will be a tough task for the Welshman.

The rising medal contenders are Liam Tancock, a world bronze medallist in the 100m backstroke, and Kirsty Balfour, silver medallist in the 200m breaststroke at the Melbourne world championships last June, where Britain won only two silvers and three bronzes. The other silver medal in Melbourne went to Cassie Patten in the new Olympic event of the 10km open water race. This former 800m specialist finished stung all over her body by jellyfish in what was only her second competition at the distance.

Medal prospects: Three

CANOEING

Two medals are expected from British canoeing, which appears something of a tall order given that there was only one medal won in Athens Helen Reeves bronze in the K1 class.

However, let Tim Brabants through hes a doctor. The 30- year-old from Surrey, a qualified GP, established himself as a strong Olympic prospect by taking K1 gold and silver at last summers world championships in Duisburg, in the 1,000m and 500m events respectively.

The world slalom silver medallist, Campbell Walsh, also looks a possible contender, although his place is being keenly contested by Richard Hounslow.

Medal prospect: One
Golden prospect: Tim Brabants

JUDO

Craig Fallon is never likely to forget the lapse of concentration that put him out of Olympic contention in the minus 60kg class in 2004, when he was one of thefavourites after taking world silver as a 19-year old the previous year.

Fallon, who won the world title in 2005, saw 2006 ruined by a shoulder injury but at 24 he is back in top form and eager to earn Britains third Olympic gold following the achievements of Neil Adams and Graeme Randall.

The European and world bronze medals won in the minus 81kg class by Euan Burton have been testimony to the mentoring talents of Sir Clive Woodward. Medal prospects Two Golden prospect Craig Fallon

GYMNASTICS

Britain had never won a medal in either the Olympics or the world championships until 2006, when Beth Tweddle (below) broke through to win gold on the asymmetric bars. Although she finished outside the medals at last years world championships, she remains a strong contender for Beijing.

Lewis Smith has emerged as an outside bet in the pommel horse event after taking bronze at the worlds.

Medal prospect: One
Golden prospect: Beth Tweddle

ARCHERY

Alan Wills, bronze medallist at last world championships, is facing strong opposition from Simon Terry, who won bronze at the 1992 Barcelona Games and has returned to the sport after a period elsewhere, finishing one place behind Wills at the worlds.

Alison Williamson, third in her fourth Olympics at Athens, will challenge again in Beijing, along with Naomi Folkard and the 20-year-old Charlotte Burgess. As world silver and bronze medallists respectively, the mens and womens teams could profit collectively.

Medal prospects: One

MODERN PENTATHLON

After the annus mirabilis of 2000, when Steph Cook won and Kate Allenby was third, Georgina Harland kept up tradition with a bronze in Athens. She is still hoping to force her way into the team. But both she and the 2006 world bronze medallist, Mhairi Spence, are leaving it late to displace the two women who have already satisfied the requirements Katy Livingston and the former world junior champion Heather Fell.

Medal prospect: One

SHOOTING

Britain will be hoping for a medal from either of their two double trap qualifiers, Richard Faulds gold medallist at the Sydney Olympics and Steve Scott, who finished seventh and sixth respectively in last Septembers world championships.

Medal prospects: One

TAEKWONDO

Sarah Stevenson, who missed out on a bronze by one place as a17-year-old in Sydney, now has the experience and talent to earn her first Olympic medal in Beijing.

Medal prospect: One

MIRACLE MEDALS...

...would come from the 13-yearold diver Thomas Daley, who ticks all the boxes as BBC Junior Sports Personality of the Year, or the former world triathlon champion Tim Don, who is recovering from a broken elbow. Andy Murray, though, is more likely to rest between Wimbledon and the US Open.

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