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Why 2011 is so important for London 2012

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Ollie Williams | 10:26 UK time, Saturday, 1 January 2011

You can't etch your name into Olympic history if you haven't earned the right to compete and 2011 is the year where qualification hots up, which makes it an electrifying year in which to be watching the action.

In sports where the British have recently excelled, like cycling, rowing, swimming and athletics, the field is so packed with potential that only the best performances in the world will stand out.

There is, however, a lot of Olympic sport heading our way. Where to begin, then? Where might the biggest drama come, and which are the events that matter most?

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Chris Hoy looks ahead to 2011 (UK users only)

There are two major hurdles which define the challenge facing athletes in any Olympic sport this year.

First, your nation must earn its place at the Games. Most sports work this out by nominating specific tournaments as qualifying events, then assigning places based on performances at that event. Places are usually awarded to countries, not individual athletes, so each nation can then decide which of its athletes deserves to go to the Olympics. (And it may well not be the same person who earned it.)

Consequently, the second challenge is getting picked by your country to fill those Olympic berths. Britain is already guaranteed a number of places in most sports by virtue of being the host nation, but the better British competitors perform this year, the more places they will unlock. And the better the individual performance, the more likely that person is to get the nod come July 2012.

This means the best events to watch may well be the ones where incredibly strong British squads begin the internal scrap for supremacy in front of their Olympic selectors.

Take swimming as an example. BBC Sport will be broadcasting the sport's World Championships in Shanghai in July, where places on the start lists at London 2012's Aquatics Centre will be at stake.

No country can enter more than two swimmers into each Olympic event, so expect fireworks over the women's freestyle distances, where even Rebecca Adlington can't be sure of her Olympic place, despite the two Beijing 2008 gold medals to her name.

Adlington will have to fend off a host of British rivals, including Jo Jackson, Jaz Carlin and Caitlin McClatchey, to demonstrate she is the leading light and cement her place in the British team.

The same is true in track cycling, where established stars are under threat not only from younger guns rising up the British ranks, but also a returning Olympic champion in the shape of 40-year-old Jason Queally, who won his last gold at Sydney 2000.

At the other end of the spectrum, BMX world champion Shanaze Reade is aiming to represent GB in both the BMX and track's team sprint in 2012 - but 2011 is the year in which she has to prove she can do it.

With that in mind, keep a close eye on next year's BMX test event on the new Olympic course. The world's top riders are likely to want to get as much time as possible on the 2012 BMX track, which would mean a strong field for another event besides the World Championships in Copenhagen in July.

Many other Olympic venues will host their first major competitions this year, giving sports a dry run before the main events in 2012. Look out for the beach volleyball and basketball test events this summer, which should see top-class opponents invited to London, as well as a huge month of sailing in Weymouth with a test event off the back of the annual Sail for Gold regatta.

Below are my remaining picks for the next 12 months, but how about yours? I've had to miss some pearls out so if you've got some more Olympic sporting dates circled in your calendar, let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

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World Olympic Dreams catches up with triathlon's Alistair Brownlee

Five World Championships to watch

World Gymnastics, Tokyo

Britain's gymnasts have taken the idea of coming on leaps and bounds to new literal heights - with five European and three world medals in 2010 - but it won't mean a thing if they don't finish the job and qualify both men's and women's teams for London 2012 - something never previously achieved or, if we're honest, thought possible. The World Championships, in October, present their first opportunity to make this a reality. If both teams finish in the top eight, they're through.

World Rowing, Slovenia

British rowing is in such a strong position - as their medal-table-topping finish at the most recent World Championships, in New Zealand, proved - that you need hardly chew your fingernails off worrying if any Brits will reach 2012. The attraction here is in seeing who those Brits will be, and how they measure up against the rest of the world in the last big pre-Olympic showdown. My favourite contest remains the eternal quest of British duo Andy Hodge and Pete Reed to overhaul New Zealand nemeses Hamish Bond and Eric Murray in the men's pair. Hodge and Reed have now suffered 13 consecutive defeats. Can they turn it around before 2012? Will coach Jurgen Grobler even let them, or will he make belated changes?

Triathlon's World Championship Series

Not so much one World Championship as seven spread across the summer, this gives you the chance to see the world's best triathletes compete in a variety of splendid, hopefully sun-drenched venues. Things kick off in Sydney in April and conclude five months later in Beijing, with the London leg likely to show off the Olympic course in Hyde Park in July. Britain's Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee brothers are ones to watch, although elder brother Alistair, the 2009 world champion, says he's not focusing on the world title this year, in favour of preparing for 2012 by channelling all his energy into the Hyde Park race.

World Athletics, Daegu (South Korea)

Very few events beat the World Athletics for sustained drama and, since the outdoor version only comes around every two years, we're made to wait for it. New contenders have emerged since the last Worlds in 2009 and competitors in South Korea - among them British stars like heptathlete Jessica Ennis - will have a totally different approach this time around, focusing on the build-up to a Games rather than the post-Beijing comedown. Expect it to be intense and packed with household names. Elsewhere, the 2011 athletics calendar remains packed, led by the Diamond League series, which visits both Birmingham and London in July and August respectively.

World Aquatics, Shanghai

Another sport where the absence of a fully fledged world event (over the 50m Olympic pool length) in 2010 makes the 2011 Worlds all the more tantalising, since we've had so little opportunity to compare British swimmers side-by-side with their American rivals - the ones most likely to halt any gold-medal ambitions in 2012. And if this event doesn't prove enough, we're expecting another Duel in the Pool event involving the two nations to take place towards the end of 2011, though this time it may take place in the United States.

Five events in Britain to go and see

Fencing European Championships, Sheffield

Britain's fencers didn't enjoy the most successful of years in 2010, but they have the perfect setting in which to start putting things right in 2011. No fencers currently in the GB team have experience of a home stage like the one they'll get in July, inside the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, and it offers both fencers and organisers invaluable experience ahead of 2012. Fencing is also a far livelier sport to watch, once you've invested half an hour in getting to know the basics, than you might imagine.

Modern Pentathlon European Championships, Medway

This will be the second year in succession that Medway, in Kent, has staged a major modern pentathlon event, having hosted a round of the sport's World Cup in 2010. If you turn up to this you're guaranteed five sports in one day-long sitting - starting with fencing, then swimming, showjumping, running and shooting. Britain has a proud tradition in pentathlon and an exciting crop of young pentathletes in the women's event. Ones to watch include Freyja Prentice and Samantha Murray alongside Beijing 2008 silver medallist Heather Fell.

Mountain Bike World Cups in Fort William and Dalby Forest

BMX isn't the only lively cycling discipline getting a good outing in Britain this coming year. Mountain biking tends to be the poor cousin of its track, road and BMX siblings, since the British team hasn't had quite the same world-beating record here in recent years, but the sport itself presents a grand day out in some of the UK's finest settings. Catch the World Cup in Dalby Forest, Yorkshire, in May and just outside Fort William in June. There is likely to be a test event at the Hadleigh Farm 2012 course, in Essex, at some point too.

Badminton World Championships, London

If you go to most of the events I've detailed in this blog, chances are you'll be watching a strong British team in action, giving off plenty of positive vibes for London. Badminton, however, was the one summer Olympic sport whose British team saw its funding cut during UK Sport's recent annual review. The team haven't hit their targets and 2011 is a big year in which they must try to turn things around with less cash, and more pressure. Wembley Arena, the 2012 Olympic venue, hosts the world's finest in August as GB look to get back on track on home soil.

Trampoline World Championships, Birmingham

If you love your gymnastics but trips to Tokyo are off the agenda, this may be slightly more accessible. For five days in December, Birmingham's National Indoor Arena will host a festival of tumbling and trampolining. Since their events usually take place away from major artistic gymnastics championships, trampolinists don't often get the same level of attention - but keep an eye out for British star Bryony Page, who was fourth at this year's Worlds in France.

Action from Spain v France in 2009's women's World Handball tournament

The women's handball World Championships take place in Brazil in December. (Photo: Getty Images)

... and five personal recommendations

EuroHockey Nations Championship, Germany

British hockey had a 2010 to remember and, while the 2011 hockey calendar isn't quite as packed, this promises to be a memorable week in late August. England's men and women will both be on show (and English players will make up the backbone of the GB teams in 2012). Last time out, in 2009, England's men won the European title by stunning opponents Germany in the final. Can they now repeat the feat in the Germans' backyard by winning in Moenchengladbach? At some point there will also be a test at the new arena in London's Olympic Park.

World Amateur Boxing Championships, South Korea

Lucky South Korea - not one, but two major world championships in the space of a month. Just over a week after the World Athletics comes to a close, the southern city of Busan welcomes the boxers for the men's amateur World Championships. A lot of fuss was made when Frankie Gavin won amateur gold for England in Chicago three years ago, but 2009 proved a lean year, with not a single medal for Britain's boxers. The squad being put in place for London 2012 looks supremely talented, but this will be our best chance to see what progress has been made ahead of the Games.

Sprint Canoe World Championships, Hungary

This event arrives amid a glut of Olympic action in the height of summer - late August - so you'll have to tear yourself away from basketball, BMX, dressage and hockey to watch. But it'll almost certainly be worth it, since Britain's sprint canoeing team is fast developing into a medal machine. Tim Brabants returned to the sport with a world silver medal this year, having gone back to work as a doctor after winning gold in Beijing, while team-mate Ed McKeever will defend his world title over the 200m distance, and Rachel Cawthorn is a good bet for a medal in the women's events.

Handball World Championships, Sweden and Brazil

By contrast, you can afford to settle down to the men's World Handball in January safe in the knowledge that there's not a lot else on. You should get to know handball - it has very little profile in Britain, given it's not a traditional sport here, but is fast-paced, skilful and surprisingly physical. Britain's men aren't involved in the Worlds but are becoming a rags-to-reasonable story ahead of 2012, where you're likely to be able to get hold of tickets more easily than for many other sports. Handball events bookend the year, with the women's Worlds in Brazil in December.

Weightlifting World Championships, Paris

You may have heard about teenage weightlifter Zoe Smith, star of the British team for 2012, who had her funding temporarily suspended for disciplinary reasons a week or two ago. She has an interesting year ahead and some tough decisions to take, and there will be no better way to judge her year than at this event in November.


  • Comment number 1.

    Don't forget the European Continental Cup in sitting volleyball for men - a great chance to see the teams who'll be competing in the Paralympic sitting volleyball competition in 2012. Sitting volleyball makes the top able-bodied volleyball competition look slow by comparison. National Volleyball Centre, Kettering, 11-16 July 2011.

  • Comment number 2.

     That's all well and true in olleys blog but he is forgetting one important fact in getting to these qualifying events.    Funding, after all we are AMATEURS and some are more amateur than others

    I'll be obscure with the details as some could give me away but I'm an athlete who has been selected to attend some of these events in 2011 in order to obtain places for my country at the London olympics. 

    I've had to turn down the two trips already offered as my governing body sent us the email stating that i've been selected, well done oh the catch is you will have to pay for the entire trip. Flights accommodation entry fees food drink - Everything, An amount which equates to nearly half my net salary for the entire year.  Normally I'd have to pay for my food and drink.  I've already committed hours of training compromising of physical, technical and mental, using facilities I've either funded myself or has been funded by my county sports authority. I'm living the lifestyle as best I can of an elite athlete    I fear that blood would be next demanded

    Please don't get me wrong I don't mind supporting the trips myself but it's only possible to a certain extent

    It's really annoying when the few funded athletes on the world class plan are swanning off all over the world for training camps (which in my opinion could easily be run in the uk,  the rest of us have to train here and we don't have the choice).   I seriously want to question and view the accounts of my NGB as my sums on the matter really don't add up but fear doing so would remove my chance of trips when funds (whether through my NGB or myself) are available

    There are some things that many people do not see because they're not in the loop or they don't ask the questions and I'm thoroughly annoyed with my NGB to the extent that Im bitter and no longer wish for my countries success in my chosen sport

    I'll be honest and say that I'm gutted on missing out as others on these trips have funding through home countries and because I'm English I miss out on that too as England commonwealth are not lottery funded and have less funding 

  • Comment number 3.

    Why does Ollie always get lumbered with sports which very few people have an interest in? I understand the BBC has to do it as Olympic boradcaster etc, but if we're being perfectly honest, this blog will appeal to a very small amount of people. Quite simply, nobody cares about handball, weightlifting etc, hence the reason why there's absolutely no media coverage of any of the sports but for once ever 4 years. Let's keep it that way and wait until next summer!

  • Comment number 4.


    Ollie's article serves two purposes increasing awareness of the qualfication process and in turn attracting supporters to the events. Hockey was an example where our national teams play in front of relatively small crowds except for the Olympics and Commonwealths.

    Last year I took my daughter to the swimming nationals for the first time the atmosphere was amazing and the performances inspirational.

    Olympic Wannabe - amateur / semi-amateur sport seems to have been hit hardest by a combination of economic factors at the worst possible time. I wish you and all our amateur competitors well on & off the field.

    Thanks Ollie please keep the path to the Olympics in the press....maybe even speak to Olympic_Wannabe to get the wider picture..

  • Comment number 5.

    You missed out the 2011 European Basketball Championships(Eurobasket for short). Women's in Poland, men's in Lithuania.

    GB are competing in both competitions and both teams should be competitive at European level but neither team have been garunteed a host's spot for 2012 yet, partly due to off-court issues. Our guys may yet have to qualify for London 2012 the hard way.

  • Comment number 6.

    The likes of Handball or Shooting events at the London Olympics will be the only opportunity for many to avail of tickets. Not many will want to watch obscure minority sports, the Games are doomed.

  • Comment number 7.

    Another good blog, Ollie, very helpful. But I'm surprised you haven't mentioned the European Basketball Championships on any of your lists.

  • Comment number 8.

    There's more than one big event happening in 2012 Ollie - don't forget the Paralympics! So how about a mention for the IPC World Athletic Championhips in New Zealand later this month - 21st - 30th January in New Zealand.

  • Comment number 9.

    Hi all - thanks for your comments, much appreciated.

    Packersftw - I appreciate your concern that I'm the victim in all this, but I find all of the above very interesting, each for different reasons depending on the sport and the personalities involved. The challenge for me, us as a team and the BBC as a corporation is finding ways to engage people who don't normally watch these sports - in many cases that's almost everybody. Which in turn means unearthing interesting stories about those involved, and presenting them well.

    Hopefully we're getting that right more often than not. It's something we're working on, very hard! I'm in the privileged position of being able to get close to these sports and spend time with experts who make them not only watchable but entertaining. It's up to me to translate that for a wider audience. I'm definitely not lumbered with 'em!

    MG82UK and 10ftTitan - You're both correct to point out that I should have given EuroBasket more of a mention, there's a lot potentially riding on it. The women's event is in June and July (in Poland, as you mentioned), and the men's is in Lithuania in September.

    The BBC Sport website's resident basketball expert is Rob Dugdale, and he'll be keeping a close eye on proceedings for us, I'm sure. Here's a piece from him with GB's Luol Deng looking ahead to EuroBasket and beyond.

    Maxmerit - You're right that demand for tickets will, obviously, be smaller for some sports than others. But that's something London 2012 organisers have known about since day one and you can expect a concerted advertising campaign around certain sports as a result. (I know organisers have been working on filming with some high-profile sports stars around tickets for the handball.)

    To suggest fluctuating levels of interest doom the Games seems a little overblown. There is a risk that attendances at some venues may not live up to expectations, but that has been a perennial worry for Olympic organisers in any city and doesn't appear to have doomed the movement yet. Personally, I enjoy the ability of the current Olympic programme to provide a platform for sports the host nation may not have previously had the chance to appreciate. Handball isn't a big sport in Britain, but it doesn't mean it's obscure elsewhere - go to Scandinavia and it's a totally different story.

    Paragirl and theologist - Thanks for your contributions and be assured I've not forgotten the Paralympics. I excluded the Paralympic sports and the various major events in winter sports (both Olympic and Paralympic) this year for reasons of space, but that doesn't make them any less important. One of my very good friends is heading to New Zealand for Channel 4's coverage of the IPC World Athletics and excellent colleagues of mine will be there too for BBC Sport, so you'll see regular updates from them on our website. I'll try to give out some links on Twitter during that event and many others. Plus I'm hoping to rig up a little online calendar in the next day or two - watch this space.

    Olympic_wannabe - The point you make certainly isn't lost on me. I spend plenty of time with Olympic hopefuls across a wide range of sports and I'm aware of the frustrations faced by some, though I can agree that the travails faced by some summer sport athletes may have recently been eclipsed by the struggle of some unfunded winter sport athletes in the wake of the recent UK Sport funding review for Sochi 2014.

    It's not a fact I'm forgetting, more that to include every last perspective on the coming season in Olympic sport - from yours, to (say) Chris Hoy's (assuming you're not Chris... I can't help but suspect you're not), to UK Sport's Peter Keen, to the new badminton performance director, to someone from squash who feels the sport should be included, through all the different Olympic sports and their very different outlooks on 2012... we'd be here forever. I could, and would love to, write a book. But for the purposes of this piece, I had to limit things to a reasonably succinct, event-by-event dash through the year.

    Your perspective isn't one we'll overlook, however, and we'll be seeking to report on all aspects of the journey to London 2012 over the coming 19 months leading up to the Games. Thanks for commenting.

    Hainba - Good to hear from you and thanks for the comment. There will definitely be a lot more Olympics coverage here in the next year and a half! Hopefully our swimming coverage at 2011's various events will keep your daugher hooked - I'm looking forward to the next Duel in the Pool, assuming it gets confirmed.

  • Comment number 10.

    Woah! Hold on a second there about the fencing Ollie!

    Could I just say that your reporting on the World Fencing Champs. was outstanding (bar the choice of music!), it was great reporting and great to see.
    This is not a rant, but...

    It's actually been at the very least a mixed year for British Fencing. Yes, our fencers flopped at the Worlds, but the Men's Foilists delivered an individual bronze medal via Richard Kruse and a team bronze medal at the European Championships in Leipzig back in July. In the team event the British Men's Foilists won a notable win against the Germans (whose team had the then 3 times and now 4 times world champion, as well as the reigning Olympic champion), which is better than how the football encounter went in South Africa!

    Okay, alongside this; Kruse also won silver medals at the Seoul and St Petersburg Grand Prix events, and also won the inaugural Singapore Masters tournament. In all three, Kruse won victories over what are considered to be firm favourites for Olympic, World and European titles.

    Laurence Halsted, part of that bronze winning team at the Euros, also won his first Grand Prix medal (a bronze) in Tokyo, which along with St Petersburg and Seoul is one of the toughest Grand Prixs in the world.
    The Junior Men's Foil team also won a bronze at the Junior Euro Champs, as well as an individual bronze being won by Husayn Rosowsky. At the European Cadet Championships the Men's Foil Team won silver (or lost out on gold, if you want to be cynical!).
    Jamie Fitzgerald (again, men's foil) won a Junior World Cup in France too.

    Sabreur Chrystall Nicoll came away with a bronze at the Klagenfurt GP. Fellow sabreurs Sophie Williams and Jessica Davies won bronze medals at the Madrid world cup. Soji Aiyenuro was third at an international comp in Goppingen, Germany.
    Young epeeists Jack Hudson (16) and Jenney McGeever (19) won silver and bronze respectively at events in France and the Czech Republic, while Jon Willis won a World Cup event in Iran (I think it was).

    There was also a flood of last-16 and last-8 results in other international events, especially for our under-23 fencers. I won't disagree that Paris was hugely dissapointing, but that shouldn't overshadow what has been a largely good year by our standards.

    Again, this wasn't a rant. ;)
    All the best Ollie :)

  • Comment number 11.

    Mackem010 - Hello! Thanks for the comment and you rant away, it's what we're here for.

    Yes, there was a good deal of success for British Fencing as a whole in the last 12 months.

    The cadet and junior results are encouraging but the impact those will have on fencing's medal hopes at London 2012 is questionable at best, even though they bode incredibly well for Rio 2016 and beyond (as per my report from the Newham Swords fencing club a few months ago).

    I think it's also fair to say that British medal hopes in sabre, epee, and women's foil are an outside bet, although Chrystall Nicoll is definitely on the up and we're keeping close tabs on her progress.

    That leaves the men's foil team and individual events as the key British medal targets, and it's those results on which I reckon the programme would most like to be judged.

    With that in mind, bronze medals at the European Championships represent a good level of success and one that hasn't been enjoyed by British fencers in many a decade. But in the context of London 2012, where the pressure is on most of the British governing bodies to challenge for medals at a world level, the World Championships is your only vaguely reliable yardstick. At the Worlds, an under-strength British foil team failed to deliver.

    That's the background behind saying it wasn't the most successful of years, although that may be a poor choice of words as it arguably still was the most successful years. What I should have said is: it could and should have been better still. I'm of the opinion that with Kruse in the team and a few others firing on all cylinders (Ed Jefferies getting food poisoning from a dodgy burger being a particular lowlight, but Laurence Halsted really should have won his individual fight against Maor Hatoel), GB would have had more to crow about from the Worlds.

    I'm convinced they can do much better at the Euros, and in my view a bronze medal should not be considered good enough this year when fighting on home soil, particularly assuming Kruse, Jefferies et al are all fit and well. Perhaps I'm setting the bar too high given Britain's historic lack of success in the sport, but I think the sport itself would want the bar to be that high. I'm looking forward to being there and seeing how they get on.

  • Comment number 12.

    Hi there Ollie,

    I was just wondering how I could directly contact you and Roger Mosey. Sorry for the not particularly on-topic comment.

  • Comment number 13.

    Hello! Most BBC email addresses are and I assume Roger's follows that pattern, but I'm at home and can't immediately check. Mine, however, is oliver dot williams. (I'm only ever called Oliver by the BBC or my mum when she's angry with me.)


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