At the sharp end: time ticking for British Fencing
Britain's fencers are running out of time to prove they can perform when it matters. Now they will turn their training upside down in the hope it provides the answer.
This month's European Championships in Sheffield look certain to become the second major tournament in a row, following last winter's Worlds in Paris, in which a British squad arrived with high hopes of a medal and left without a bean.
One year from London 2012, the pattern is a worrying one for a sport without an Olympic medal since 1964.
New performance director Alex Newton has spent two months taking stock since her appointment, and is introducing a "fundamentally different" training regime from 1 August.
It is the Olympic equivalent of applying the defibrillator, in the hope that British medal prospects - which clearly exist but lie frustratingly dormant - come to life.
Richard Kruse and Laurence Halsted do battle with Sheffield shoppers pre-Euros
"There's a lot of work to do," Newton tells me on the afternoon Britain's remaining medal hopes in Sheffield evaporate. "I had to get the Euros over to draw a line in the sand and drive home what we now need to do."
Newton can't go into detail about the new plans without giving away the family jewels, in the same way British Cycling would rather you didn't film inside their velodrome. But much of it is based around what she has seen other, more successful teams doing.
"I've spent a lot of my time here wandering, watching and looking at what teams are doing," she says. "I saw the Russian team nailing a warm-up with military precision, and another team doing some amazing sprint drills. It was impressive.
"We have to make sure whatever we do is appropriate for us. We can't immediately replicate other countries who have a different coaching structure and a better depth and quality of athlete. But we have to make our system as good as theirs."
British Fencing does have some talent to play with. Richard Kruse, aged 27, is a veteran of two Olympics and the best hope in a generation of ending a 50-year wait for another medal at the Games.
Behind Kruse is Laurence Halsted, slightly younger and almost as good. Beyond that things begin to thin a little, but Chrystall Nicoll in women's sabre and Jon Willis in men's epee will do more than make up the numbers next year, even if a medal is a long shot at best.
However, fencing is not track cycling, triathlon or swimming, all sports where Britain has medal chances coming out of its ears. Like a number of other sports, fencing enters a frantic final year of preparation for 2012 needing something to change for Olympic success to be a realistic hope.
Newton must persuade her top fencers to sign up to a new regime, ensure it gets the best out of them, and make some tough decisions around who gets the green light for 2012 and who is told theirs is an Olympic pipe dream.
"So far I haven't received a great deal of resistance. Today I went to the board of directors with my plans and got unanimous support," says Newton.
"Will there be resistance from the athletes? I'd call it more unease than resistance. Some athletes like what they're hearing and are absolutely behind me. Others have perhaps done things their own way and are wondering what this means for them.
"There are painful things that revolve around funding that people may not take as well. But it's about me convincing them that this is a bus they want to be on."
Newton diplomatically dodges direct criticism of her predecessors - former performance director Graham Watt left at the end of 2010 - but it's clear the training programme she inherited did not strike her as one capable of producing medal-winning athletes.
"There might be a one-off performance, but UK Sport are looking for performances that are the result of consistency," explains Newton, herself a former UK Sport employee.
"It would be disappointing if we don't bring back a medal next year but as long as we get to a point where our athletes are on a consistent upward trajectory, we're in a strong position to go to UK Sport and argue the case for funding post-2012.
"If we don't do that and don't win a medal, we're in trouble. If we deliver a medal and don't do that, we're still on dodgy ground."
Kruse, left, consoles Halsted after Euro disappointment. Photo: Getty Images.
Newton's problems extend beyond training. The men's foil squad are the Premier League stars of British Fencing and those outside it can grumble about the attention, funding and occasional closed-shop nature it is perceived to generate.
Within that squad, the issue becomes the lack of a permanent and suitable training facility. The Lansdowne Club in central London, while a supportive base for Britain's stars, does not possess Olympic-length pistes. Kruse and others have spoken out about the urgent need for a new training venue.
"Why haven't we found an Olympic training venue for all the disciplines? That's a question I have asked," admits Newton. She believes this should have been done much earlier, and certainly should not be causing concern 12 months before a home Olympics.
However, building a new permanent facility is out of the question now. "A distraction," Newton believes. "Our time and energy is better spent on getting the athletes right.
"To build a national centre this close to the Games is to put icing on a cake we haven't baked yet. We need to do that at the beginning of an Olympic cycle, not a year out.
"However, do we need to get a venue in which people can train with full-size pistes? Absolutely. And we have made progress there."
Will there be a brand new building after London 2012, then? Possibly, we are told. In what amounts to something of a vicious circle, it may depend on Britain's performance at the Games.
"That is an issue," admits Newton. "I would hope that we would start to look now at what we need to be doing post-London. The aspiration is very much to build a national centre but we are not in a luxurious position.
"My immediate challenge is to put in place a programme that shows UK Sport we know how to consistently deliver medals. We've got a job to do to convince them of that."