Two years to go: The 2012 Olympics games hopefuls with a tale to tell

With the Games drawing ever closer, 12 British contenders tell Oliver Duggan how their plans to win London gold are shaping up
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Jess Varnish: Fast starter honoured by Queen Victoria

At just 19 years old, the Manchester-based cyclist is at the beginning of her career, but is already offering accomplished performances. She was selected for the Olympic development programme a year ahead of her age group at 17, and partnered Victoria Pendleton in the World Championships last year.

"It's obviously amazing. I never thought I'd be doing the team sprint with Victoria," she says. "I'm going to work out to try and make sure I can do it again in 2012. It doesn't seem long now at all. I have to do everything I can to make the cut [for the GB team]. Training is pretty intense, but it's going well and the facilities are excellent. We have the best team in the world behind us and I'm really grateful for that."

Vicki Barr: Accounts manager displays impressive figure on the track

The 400m runner made the transition from Accounts Manager to Olympic athlete in 2008 when she competed in the 4x400m relay at Beijing, helping the team finish fifth. She has continued to represent Great Britain in the event, recording a fourth-place finish at last year's World Championships in Berlin. Barr is now at the base camp in Portugal preparing for next week's European Championships in Barcelona. "It's really nice to be with the team, the atmosphere is brilliant," she says. "The opportunity to train with other athletes is important, we can gel as a team. I always get butterflies when I drive past [the Olympic Stadium]. I can't wait to be there, it's inspiring."

Marcus Bateman: Red Rocket causes splash with career change

The 27-year-old didn't claim his place in the "The Red Rocket", a nickname his boat picked up as both rowers had red hair, in the usual way. He came to the sport late, starting out as a track athlete before being picked out on a fun run in America by a rowing coach.

Attempting to follow rower-turned cyclist Rebecca Romero by swapping disciplines has not been easy. "It's a real shock to the system, but it's a great environment to be in, friendly but competitive," he says.

Bateman now has his heart set on a good showing in London. "I missed out at Beijing and I was distraught, but it motivated me to train harder."

Liam Tancock: Home comforts for world's best

The back-stroke specialist is no stranger to performing under high pressure. Having landed a medal in his first senior competition back in 2005, and set the world record for 50m backstroke in the 2009 World Championships, he now has his heart set on a podium finish in London.

The 25-year-old has only just returned from a competitive tour of Europe but he was back in the pool this week training hard, although he hardly sees it as a chore: "It's about doing what you love and doing it well. I'm based with the squad, which I love, it's fantastic," he says.

The Loughborough graduate believes a home Olympics is really for the fans to embrace, rather than the athletes. "Of course it's exciting for us, but it's the British public that will notice the difference, it's in our life all the time really." That's not to say Tancock doesn't expect the event to be "mind-blowing," and he hopes the crowd will push him to gold: "If you're prepared, things can happen."

Andy Tennant: 'Skinny' beefs up cycling challenge

Despite training for four hours on the dark, damp Scottish Moors the young cyclist was staying focused on victory in London in 2012. "We've really progressed in the last year and a half," he says. "All the signs are there, I'm preparing well and the Olympics is the main target." The 23-year-old has had a bumpy ride, though, crashing out of the British Cycling Academy in 2006. "I became too skinny and dieted too much," he admits. "I tried to become the road rider when I wasn't able to be." But he certainly is now, having lost out on gold at last year's national Championships by just a hundredth of a second. Even the added pressure of a home Olympics doesn't faze him: "I'm going out there to do my job; it doesn't matter where it is. It's my first Olympics so it'll be huge for me."

Zoe Smith: Student tackling some heavy revision

A look at the GCSE student certainly does not reveal the discipline she is set to compete in at the Games, but this 16-year-old is rapidly becoming weightlifting's most successful young star. She started lifting at 12 and has since competed across the country before winning silver in the European Youth Championship's last year.

Her coach has already got her lifting 110kg, far more than the average adult male can manage. For the east London schoolgirl, notoriety has come as something of a shock: "It's like being a celebrity, but I'm just doing my thing." However, she wants to continue her winning form. "I'm going for gold at the Commonwealths," she says, "then I'll focus on qualifying for 2012."

Tim Brabants: Doctor determined to deliver medal

The kayaker has a special career: part-time doctor, part-time gold medallist, having won in the 1000m in 2008. He has already competed in three Games, but makes it a habit to take 18 months off afterwards to return to medicine. "I can't afford to step away from it for too long if I want to keep progressing," the 33-year-old says. "It's a good break for your mind and your body, it allows me to come back regenerated." The fact that he classes full-time work in a hospital as a break is indicative of his character: not satisfied with competing, he also sits on the organising and anti-doping commissions. "I want the gold in K1, for sure," he says. "I'm not going just to get the T-shirt, I need to deliver."

Heather Fell: 6am start, and that's on her rest week

The modern pentathlete who won silver in Beijing is not taking the task ahead lightly. "I swam at six and I'm running tomorrow. This is technically a rest week but I don't like to take too long a break," she says. After a series of shin injuries that hindered her progress, the 27-year-old is trying not to be distracted by the possibility of outdoing her performance of two years ago.

"It's odd, London feels a world away, but then when you break it down you start to realise it's a lot closer than it seems," she said. "If training is going badly you fret it's just around the corner; if it's going well, it can't come quickly enough."

Greg Searle: Veteran tempted back by the taste of gold

The veteran rower has come out of retirement after 10 years to compete in London. Having won a coxless pairs gold in 1992, a games that many of the athletes in Team GB would have been far too young to see, Searle continued to race until Sydney in 2000, where he finished a disappointing fourth having led most of the way.

Despite having been out of competitive sport for so long, Searle remains hopeful of his chances: "I'm as much on target to win gold in London as I can be; at 40 I could be rowing the best I ever have." However, it has not been easy to settle back into the squad; aside from the battle to get into the team, the generational differences are starting to show. "When they're all playing these games on their mobiles in between sessions, I can feel a bit out of it," he says.

Chris Walker-Hebborn: Focus on Phelps

The bath swimmer, who only recently graduated to the seniors, set the national record for the 200m backstroke last year. Aside from Tancock, he is perhaps the team's best hope of shifting man-mountain Michael Phelps from the podium. Walker-Hebborn puts his chances down to the new inventive training initiatives implemented by his coaches in Bath. "It's pretty intensive at the moment, we've started a new regime that includes trampoline to help hold good body composition in high stress situations," he says. The 20-year-old adds: "Being in the Olympics has been my dream since I was a kid so it will always be in my mind, but I try to focus on the present. I've got plenty of competitions between now and then."

Jazmin Carlin: Taking flexible approach to training

The freestyle swimmer is set to be one of the youngest members of Team GB at just 19 years old, but she is not resigned to swimming in Rebecca Adlington's wake.

The Swansea-based 200m, 400m and 800m competitor is taking her prospects very seriously: "I'm still training a lot up until October and the focus of this year is the Commonwealth Games," she says. "The hope is I will eventually be strong and ready for 2012." With the help of Swansea's intensive training centre she has narrowed in on what has to be done if she is to emerge as one of Britain's strongest swimmers.

"I know that my weakness is flexibility and I am working hard with my physio. I'm lucky; we get the best coaches and there is loads of support around us."

She relies a great deal on her coach, Bud McAllister, a man she has "a lot of respect for", and she is quick to recognise that their relationship is crucial to her success. But it is her determination that will serve her best in London in two years. "Of course competing with Olympic medallists means they get all the spotlight, but I'm the young one coming through and people are starting to take notice."

Tom Stalker: Fighting chance of Olympic medal

The boxer had not set foot in the ring before his 18th birthday, but now, at 26, he has a fighting chance at an Olympic medal. The Liverpool lightweight emerged from obscurity with a silver medal in the European amateurs last year and has since been inspired by the thought of victory in London.

"I can't think of anything better than your anthem playing and having that medal around your neck," he says. Stalker knows he has a tough job ahead of him, especially with formidable Newcastle-based Martin Ward moving into his class. "If I don't make it, I at least want to be able to say I've tried my best and given it 100 per cent," he adds.

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