First British athlete qualifies

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First British athlete qualifies

By Graham Morrison

Friday July 22, 2011

The first British athlete to qualify for Team GB at the Olympics next year was Open Water swimmer Keri-Anne Payne.

She won her place, which now is subject just to ‘fitness and form’ criteria, by winning gold at the World Aquatics Championships in Shanghai. Noting that she was the first athlete to claim a named place on what will be a squad of 550, the BOA’s Andy Hunt thought it “very appropriate” that she should be from swimming, which sport produced so much success in Beijing.

Britain’s fencers though are finding it harder to prove their worth. Following a disappointing world championships performance in Paris last year, the British Fencing Association hoped for a medal while hosting the senior European Championships in Sheffield this month. But their optimism was misplaced as the squad headed for the early shower.

Despite having been granted the ‘home nation’ allocation by the BOA earlier this year, the athletes still need to achieve the minimum qualifying standard. British Fencing’s real hopes for Olympic success mainly rest with the men’s foil team headed by London-based Richard Kruse who, despite some early season successes including a silver medal in Seoul in May, could only manage 26th in Sheffield. This despite the BFA landing a substantial sponsorship from specialist insurer Beazley and Performance Director Graham Watts being replaced by Alex Newton previously of UK Sport.

In the quadrennial cycle there is one event that matters more than any other. Sadly there is a history in fencing of mid-cycle promise that remains just that. Whether the cash injection and change of Performance Director can deliver Britain’s first Olympic fencing gold since 1964, or the BFA just is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic at great expense, remains to be seen.

The 2000th Test Match started at Lords this week. The first was in Melbourne in 1877 and the 1000th in Hyderabad in 1984. Once, cricket was an Olympic sport - just the once, in 1900 in Paris. Then, although several nations were to take part, just Britain (billed as ‘England’) and France competed. “France?” you say. Yes, but the French team was composed of British ex-pats mostly, while the GB team was similarly filled with club cricketers from the Southwest. Britain came out victorious winning the two-day game by 158 runs with five minutes to spare. The match, though, was only recognised as having been in the Olympics in 1912 and the players were unaware at the time that they were taking part in the Olympic Games.

The ICC (International Cricket Council) it seems is examining the likelihood of re-entering the Games for 2020, appropriately in the popular and successful twenty20 format, following encouraging noises from the IOC.

The Belgium IOC President Jacques Rogge it seems is keen on cricket. "I love the game. I have watched Sachin Tendulkar, Kevin Pietersen, Shane Warne, Ian Botham. It's tactically very interesting, a game of patience, a game of great skills and the only sport where, after five days, you can have a draw!" Make of that what you will.

We shall see if the game follows rugby and golf through the hallowed portals of the IOC. Certainly it would be a big draw. But with football, rugby, golf and tennis already there, questions arise as to where exactly the Olympics is heading. These major spectator sports already have prestigious high profile, not to mention money-spinning, showpiece fixtures viewed by millions of people around the world. Their inclusion could easily detract from the core sports, all of which are participation sports relying heavily on Olympic status to attract sufficient funding to stay in business and to provide their only real showcase.

With the sheer size of the Olympics already causing problems, inclusion of these majors could see the smaller sports gradually pushed aside, and really that is not in anyone’s best interests.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not necessarily those of the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham.

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