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OLYMPIC SELECTION - MESSAGE FROM THE PERFORMANCE MANAGER

1st June 2012

Today we are delighted to announce seven of the 10 athletes that have been selected to represent Team GB, for the British Olympic Association, in fencing at London 2012. It is a proud day for each and every one of the athletes selected. On behalf of the British Fencing Performance Team, I will as promised provide insights into the performance processes and principles that shaped the recommendations to the Olympic Selection Panel which made the final nominations to the BOA.

I should say at the outset that these comments apply only to the athletes that did not qualify themselves for these Games. It is important to stress that only Natalia Sheppard and Richard Kruse qualified to compete for Team GB at the London Olympics. In 2012 we also have eight Host Nations places, which are discretionary. British Fencing put in place a unique selection process for these discretionary places. It was my job with the Performance Team to make the nominations for these places, first to the Performance Advisory Group and then to the independent Olympic Selection Panel. Both groups established by the British Fencing Board.

The results and data that went before the Olympic Selectors were ratified by each athlete and focused on the following key competitions and results:

  • Olympic qualification period from 1st April 2011 – 31st March 2012
  • Selection qualification period from 1st April 2010 – 9th May 2012

Taking the criteria in 11/12 (a)/(b) of the Olympic Selection Policy, the first consideration was which athletes could deliver a performance in the medal zone (L8) in 2012?

Overall our current world rankings show where we are against the World’s best. An assessment of the results during a tough Olympic Qualification period is stark evidence that a couple of respectable international results, or a GBR number one ranking, do not indicate competitiveness at the highest level. However, the Performance Team felt strongly that the following two athletes, who were seeking Home Nation places, were the most likely to put in an effective performance and have a chance of being in the ‘medal zone’ (L8) in London 2012:

James Davis (MF) ‐ a young development fencer who has only been on the WCP since 1st August 2011 has already achieved a L8 during the tough Olympic qualification period. He was nominated on both 2012 medal zone potential and a medal prospect for 2016. At selection, he was one of just four GB fencers ranked in the World’s top 50.

Louise Bond-Williams (WS) ‐ her previous Olympic experience, world ranking and results, makes her capable of a performance in the medal winning zone at the Olympics in 2012. She is a talented and committed athlete who has consistently been in the top 50 of the World rankings during Olympic qualification and was the highest ranked women’s sabreur at the time of selection. She is the only WS fencer to have beaten a world top 10 fencer during the Olympic qualification period. She is one of only four GB fencers in the World top 50 at the time of selection.

The Performance Team felt no other individual athlete should be offered a host nation place based on potential to achieve a result in the medal zone at 2012.

We then considered all those athletes who we believe could be competitive and put in a credible performance in 2012, but crucially are on a trajectory to qualify and perform in Rio 2016. The Team therefore nominated the following athletes:

Corinna Lawrence (WE) ‐ a young development fencer who has achieved some good results against the world's best fencers. Her recent performance, against significantly more experienced and higher ranked fencers at the European Zonal competition was impressive. She achieved the highest position of all athletes at the World Championships 2011 gaining a L16 placing. She is on a steep upward performance trajectory and a genuine 2016 medal prospect as well as being able to be competitive in 2012. At the time of selection, Corinna was one of only four GB fencers in the World’s top 50 and had the third highest world ranking points across all weapons.

James Honeybone (MS) ­‐ a young development fencer he has beaten some of the world's best fencers during this qualification period. He has the skills and temperament to be a genuine world-­‐class fencer but is still gaining experience at this senior level. He is, by some margin, our highest ranked male sabreur and has genuine 2016 medal potential as well as being able to put in a credible performance in 2012.

Sophie Williams (WS) ­‐ a fencer in her first full senior year who has had some good results and performances against the world’s best. In the toughest ever international competition environment for WS, her performance trajectory is impressive; she is on a higher curve than our other women sabreurs. The Performance Team are confident that she will bridge the gap to the podium by 2016. At the time of selection she was ranked 59th in the world and is one of our brightest 2016 prospects and is also capable of producing a credible performance in 2012.

There has been much public speculation and commentary on the WS selections. In reality all three athletes outside the top 50 were not considered as likely to produce a performance in the medal zone in 2012, and were therefore being considered as 2016 prospects. At the point of selection, there was no significant difference in the points and world ranking of the three fencers in contention. Following a detailed and thorough discussion, the clear view of the Performance Team was that although three sabruers had broadly similar results over the qualifying period, Sophie Williams shows the greatest promise for the future, in particular for Rio 2016.

Having reviewed all the athletes seeking individual nominations, the Performance Team next considered the teams most likely to deliver a L8 result or better.

Men’s Foil Team (one additional place) -­ is the highest ranked GBR team, with the most strength in depth across well established fencers and strong young development fencers starting to make their mark. The current performances warrant the nomination of one additional place to the MF team to enable two attempts to deliver medals, both within the individual and team events. The MF team is also 2016 medal prospects and London will be used as a platform to develop, as well as offering an absolute minimum expectation of a L8 finish.

Women's Foil Team – (two additional places) is the second ranked GBR Team eligible for 2012. Over the last six months, since their inclusion on the WCP, their performances have gone from strength to strength. Natalia Sheppard has qualified by right and two other foil athletes met criteria 11(a) through their AOR. These two have also achieved points and rankings better than those athletes still eligible for consideration with none of these remaining athletes being considered a 2012 medal prospect or likely 2016 medal potential. WFT has not lost a match to a lower ranked team and has defeated a number of teams higher in the rankings including Japan, Canada, China and the Ukraine during Olympic qualification. The Performance Team believes that the MFT and WFT are the only GBR teams likely to achieve a minimum of a L8 finish.

As with selections for all major championships, all athletes will be required to undergo a full fitness test and medical prior to the Games and these are scheduled for end June / early July. We have until 27th July to make any changes to athlete selections as a result of injury or illness.

We believe that we have a really well‐balanced, talented team combining our very best experienced fencers with the finest prospects who have already shown competitiveness on the senior circuit. I am delighted to be leading such a dedicated and talented group of athletes, coaches and support staff and have every confidence that each member of the GBR fencing team will deliver a competitive and credible performance at London 2012.

Whilst inevitably there is disappointment for some, and of course fencing enthusiasts will disagree wherever selections are “discretionary”, both I and the Performance Team express the hope we will now all direct our energy into positive support for the athletes selected and the sport itself. We are less than two months away from a moment in history, a home Olympic Games. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for fencing – let’s make the most of it.

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