New Olympic sports draw basket case of Brits

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The Independent Online

Going for gold! Today, as a boost for British athletics, I am bringing you a profile of some of our Olympic hopefuls.

Linda Chisel, synchronised glider.

Linda is resigned to the fact that, although she has been the European ladies' synchronised gliding champion for four years, she is almost unknown in Britain.

"It's not a sport that gets any coverage," she says. "But when you think of the other Olympic sports that get no publicity in Britain, like hang skiing, wrist wrestling and motor cycle polo, then you don't feel unduly singled out."

Hang on a moment. Are hang skiing, wrist wrestling and motor cycle polo actually Olympic events?

"I have no idea," says Linda. "All I know is that synchronised gliding is in the Olympics for the first time this year, and as the Brits have got a very good chance of being among the medals, you'd think we'd have got some coverage. Not a whisper."

Synchronised gliding is a highly sophisticated art. Ten gliders compete as a team, doing pirouettes in the sky, weaving in and out of each other, tracing breathtaking patterns or, on a bad day, crashing into each other.

"It's like ballroom dancing, except it's in a machine - and it's three dimensional, of course, because a ballroom dancer can't suddenly go higher or lower, which we can."

And will their Olympic facilities be ready in time?

"All we need is an airstrip and an empty sky. I'm sure that won't be asking too much."

Brian Garnett, deck quoits.

Brian used to be a synchronised glider till his career was cut short by an unexplained crash in 1993 (He believes he was shot down by an armed Mexican rival, but has never been able to prove anything). He contracted a fear of flying and might have left sport if he had not discovered the world of deck quoits.

"Deck quoits is a great sport," he says. "It combines the artistry of petanque with the misanthropic malice of croquet - and it's all done on board a deck which rises and falls with the sea. Can you name any other sport which is at the vagaries of the waves?"

Well, yachting. And canoeing. And rowing. And ...

"Yeah, OK, clever clogs," says Brian, chucking me playfully under the chin. "But that's old hat. Deck quoits is where it's at today. We're in the Olympics for the first time and we're determined to make our mark. People say that a lot of silly local sports are in the Olympics, like baseball, but deck quoits is played all round the world, wherever cruise ships go."

Yes, but how easy is it to promote a sport which is played far out to sea, on a ship which allows for almost no audience? And which is associated with pensioners?

"Nothing venture, nothing win, sunshine," says Brian, playfully boxing me on the ear. "When we win a deck quoits gold for Britain, you'll be talking a different tune."

Steve Tramm, 100 metre brick-laying.

Steve got into 100-metre bricklaying as a result of his chosen vocation, which is bricklaying.

"Maybe only brickies know bricklaying has a long competitive tradition," says Steve. "I've been competing for 20 years, but this is the first year it's been at the Olympics. This could be the breakthrough. The BBC are talking to me about a new TV programme which could be a crossover between Ground Force and Grandstand."

The 100 metre event is a long distance event in competitive bricklaying, and can take all day. For Steve, the beauty of it being admitted to the Olympics is that he has been in Athens for three months, helping to complete the facilities and earning a lot of dosh. And if they are not ready on time?

"Then I expect we'll be finishing them during our event!" twinkles Steve.

Coming soon: our medal hopefuls in para-ski polo, Monopoly, holding your breath underwater, etc etc.