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Olympic sports give their 2010 verdicts

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Ollie Williams | 11:16 UK time, Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Although the year still has some time to run for the rest of us, the 2010 season is over for many of Britain's Olympic sports. Hundreds of Olympic hopefuls and their coaches are now taking all the time they can get to prepare for a make-or-break year ahead.

Each sport has a performance director, above the individual athletes and coaches, who must oversee every aspect of the fight for Olympic medals in 2012. They earn their corn putting the funding, facilities and environment in place which will allow medals to be won, and this is a crucial time for them.

Funding body UK Sport brought these performance directors together in St Andrews earlier in November, in the hope that by sharing their experiences of the season just gone - what worked, what didn't, and which other ideas and issues cropped up - sports can learn from each other, with enough time to try some new tricks before the next season begins.

We were allowed into the conference too, to sit in on some of the sessions and speak to those performance directors. We asked them how they rate their progress in 2010, and which big challenges facing their sports we should watch out for in 2011.

Here are a selection of answers from a range of the sports represented in St Andrews. But what's your verdict on 2010 for Britain's Olympic sports? If there's a sport you follow closely, what mark out of 10 would you give them for this year, and what are the major obstacles they must overcome next year?

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British Gymnastics' Tim Jones reviews 2010 and looks ahead to 2011

Gymnastics

British gymnasts have reached unprecedented heights since the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Beth Tweddle has been a world champion in 2009 and 2010 while Britain's men's team outperformed expectations at the recent World Championships in Rotterdam, even without injured world silver medallist Dan Keatings. Louis Smith and Dan Purvis won silver and bronze medals respectively. Britain won a glut of senior and junior medals at April's European Championships in Birmingham.

Read more about the sport's year:
25 April: Keatings beats Smith to European gold
2 May: Beth Tweddle wins two European golds
25 May: Injured Keatings to miss World Championships
23 October: Beth Tweddle regains world bars title

Tim Jones, British Gymnastics' performance director:

"In the past we've had the occasional fantastic talent that produced medals for us, but we've not had a stock of good kids. Now we've got such a good group that the reputation of British Gymnastics - not just in the gymnastics community but with the British public and media - has changed. There's been a sea change in the perception of what we're about.

"Picking one to watch is tough but, if I'm being objective, then it's Sam Oldham. He went to the Youth Olympic Games and won a gold medal, then came with us as the travelling reserve at the senior World Championships. Every other nation will be looking at him and saying that if Britain can do as well as they did without Sam, then there's some special stuff to come."

Handball

Handball's low profile in the UK means Britain are by no means major players on the world stage. But the GB men registered the first competitive win in their history in June, beating Bulgaria, and the women claimed victory over Italy in September's Four Nations tournament. A sponsorship boost means the women will have a new, centralised training programme based in Crystal Palace from mid-2011.

Read more about the sport's year:

13 June: Jubilant scenes after historic GB win
25 September: Victory sees GB women finish third at Four Nations
4 November: GB handball players to return to London in 2011

Lorraine Brown, British Handball's performance director:

"I'd give us eight out of 10 for the year. Everyone could do with more money but we've decided to be pragmatic - this is the money we've got, how do we best use that? We've tried to be creative and work with our partners to maximise the funding we've got to get the best preparation for London. It's wasted energy to say, 'We've not got enough money,' and start jumping up and down.

"The biggest challenge coming up is moving our women from a decentralised programme and into the right centralised environment. For the men it's making sure they're in the right club. If they're in the wrong club, without enough training hours and court time, then that will impact on their ability to fight for a place in the national team. There are one or two players in that position at the moment and they're feeling the stress of that.

"One to watch would be Holly Lam-Moores - an exciting, fun player, she will epitomise the philosophy of the British handball team. A focused but exciting and dynamic athlete."

Hockey

It's been a good year for hockey in Britain. The England men reached the final of the Champions Trophy in Germany - a high-profile tournament ranked just below the Olympics and World Cup - and reached the World Cup semi-finals. England's women won bronze at both the Champions Trophy and World Cup. The vast majority of the GB teams at London 2012, for which they are automatically qualified as hosts, will be English.

Read more about the sport's year:

12 March: Netherlands beat England men in World Cup semi-final
12 September: England's women secure World Cup bronze
14 October: England men miss out on Commonwealth bronze
11 November: England loses bid to stage 2014 Hockey World Cups

David Faulkner, GB Hockey's performance director:

"When we look at the semi-finals we've had this year, we've not taken advantage of them - but the most important thing is we made those semis and are competing for medals.

"This year wasn't about hard decisions. It was about confidence in supporting decisions we made three or four years ago, to back our coaches and put a funding model around our athletes where they can make themselves available and make good choices.

"Now it's important not to get carried away, because we're still fighting with some fantastic opposition in men's and women's hockey, and in 2011 we have a Champions Trophy and a European Cup to look forward to. We have the comfort zone of Olympic qualification, but it's important that GB - and the home nations - keep that momentum going.

"If you're watching hockey for the first time and looking for speed, skill and what he does on the ball, then watch Ashley Jackson. He has a rare skill. He's exciting, he gets involved in midfield, scores goals in open play and has the ability to score at short corners. I'd suggest to you that he's the one to watch."

Judo

Euan Burton, British judo's biggest name, once again led from the front in 2010, picking up a bronze medal at the World Championships in September. Burton and Karina Bryant also picked up European bronze medals earlier in the year, but judo continues to grapple with sweeping and controversial changes made to the GB players' training regimes as the sport heads into 2011.

Read more about the sport's year:

26 April: Bryant and Burton win European medals
7 September: Judo's changes explained - will the drastic overhaul work?
10 September: Burton clinches World Judo bronze

Margaret Hicks, British Judo's performance director:

"We'd have liked a second medal at the World Championships, although it was the first time two players per weight, per nation have been allowed to compete (up from one), so it was a tougher competition. However, we got a fantastic bronze from Euan Burton and a great performance from young Gemma Howell, coming through into the top eight. We're there or thereabouts, but there's lots more work to do to consolidate performances at the top level.

"We'd like to mirror our Olympic targets this coming year - a couple of World Championship medals would give us great confidence going into 2012. We'd like to see increased performances across ranking events like Grand Slams, Grand Prix and World Cups. We'd like to see a big group of players consistently performing and delivering medals.

"We have a generation of younger players who will be very interesting to look at. I don't want to single players out but one young name that stands out would be Gemma Howell, who has a track record as a junior and is making steps into the elite programme."

Modern Pentathlon

Pentathlon has a strong recent Olympic history in Britain, with GB women earning medals at each of the last three Games. The women took team silver at this year's World Championships in China, but individual successes were thinner on the ground.

Sam Weale bucked that trend with an historic silver medal at the European Championships in July, but the men disappointed at the Worlds. Pentathlon ended the year with plans to use laser guns instead of air pistols at London 2012 in disarray, following a vote to keep the pistols after laser testing left the athletes unconvinced.

Read more about the sport's year:

13 April: Pentathlon chief backs laser guns
18 July: Weale wins historic European silver medal
4 September: British women win World team silver
7 November: Pentathlon drops laser gun plan

Jan Bartu, Pentathlon GB's performance director:

"The ladies' team met all the performance targets set for 2010. Our men's team did very well in the European Championships but did not follow through at the World Championships. Overall, looking at 2010 from a London 2012 perspective, we're on the way as planned.

"2011 is all about Olympic qualification. As the host nation we have one athlete guaranteed per gender in London, but we aspire to qualify four - two men and two women. The main target for next year is getting the full team qualified, and there is fierce competition within the women's team battling for those two places.

"I can't say who's winning that battle, it's a massive internal fight between established athletes like Heather Fell and Katy Livingston and the upcoming generation represented by Freyja Prentice, Samantha Murray and Katy Burke. It's all very exciting. Picking one to watch is tricky but I'd say Freyja Prentice. She's one of the athletes who advanced the most this year.

"The laser guns are a new technology which all in the sport support. However, the testing has not been conclusive up to this point. My personal vote? At this stage I would say keep testing. It is a massive issue for us - it could potentially have a strong negative impact on performances."

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British Gymnastics' Tim Jones reviews 2010 and looks ahead to 2011

Synchronised swimming

British synchronised swimmers picked up medals at the Commonwealth Games but it is their steady upward progress on the world stage which matters now. A British team made the top eight at a World Cup for the first time in 2010, while top duo Olivia Allison and Jenna Randall finished on an international podium together for the first time in Germany back in March. The rest of Randall's season was affected by a back injury.

Read more about the sport's year:

8 March: Randall and Allison win silver in Germany
7 October: Commonwealth medals for England's Randall and Scotland's Smith

Biz Price, GB Synchro's performance director:

"I'm always a hard evaluator so I'd give us seven out of 10. We had a major injury to our top athlete this year, Jenna Randall, and how to rehabilitate her - how to come back from that injury, when to use a replacement athlete, what meets to hold her back from and enter her into - was tough. But it all worked out well and when she came back, she came back very strong. Sometimes injury is a blessing in disguise.

"After we received a few injuries, we had to evaluate our programme. We had to really stop and think: what are we not doing well? Obviously we're not doing some things well otherwise we wouldn't have a rash of injuries.

"2011 is getting the athletes to make that next big move up the rankings. They made huge progress in the first year but that's going to slow down as the athletes improve. Our big challenge this year is finding that next thing that's magical to move us up the ranking from the top eight to the top six. Jenna Randall is now ranked sixth in the world and we're hoping she'll move up."

Triathlon

Alistair Brownlee is a world-class triathlete at the top of his game, capable of winning medals for Britain at every event, but injury stopped him defending his 2009 world title this year. His younger brother, Jonny, is snapping at his heels and is now the under-23 world champion as well as a senior star in his own right. Helen Jenkins, Britain's top female triathlete, finished 2010 fourth in the world.

Read more about the sport's year:

26 February: Brownlee to miss start of season
6 June: Returning Brownlee wins in Madrid
12 September: Jenkins fails in World Championship podium bid
15 September: Alistair Brownlee's nightmare season

Heather Williams, British Triathlon's performance director:

"I think we've moved on from last year. We had a world champion then and in 2010 we've not only seen Alistair continue to improve, we've seen his brother Jonny come up almost to his level.

"Now we're building on strength in depth, which is something we've focused on, so we're not just reliant on one person. Triathlon is one day and you have to get that performance right, so the more people we have that can do that performance on the big day, the better. That's where I think we've made huge progress.

"We've got to continue to build on our success in 2011, which will see the first part of our Olympic selection, while Hyde Park in August will be the official test event for triathlon. We must use 2011 to practise what we want to do in 2012 so that 2012 is about 'we've done this, do what we've done before'.

"Watch Adam Bowden next season. He's got to the point where - even though he hasn't come from a swimming background, he's a steeplechase runner - he's getting into that lead pack in the swim. As he builds on his endurance I think he'll start to be very, very competitive within the men's senior field."

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