Britain sets 'bold' Beijing target

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Britain is set to enjoy its most successful Olympic medal haul for nearly a century according to the national funding agency.

Updated: July 09, 2008 17:26 IST
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Britain is set to enjoy its most successful Olympic medal haul for nearly a century according to the national funding agency for elite sport now all their competitors have to do is to live up to that prediction.

UK Sport expects the British team to win 35 medals, including 10 to 12 golds, in Beijing.

That equates to eighth place in the overall medal table which, if achieved, would represent an improvement on the tenth position Britain achieved four years ago in Athens.

And that would lead to Britain's best performance at a non-boycotted Games since the 1920 Antwerp Olympics.

However, there is a suspicion that what seems like a bold target may have been set lower than the team's strength would suggest. For example, Australia expect Britain to be one of their major rivals for fifth place.

Although 17 different sports have been identified as offering medal chances, the bulk of British success in individual events is expected to come from cycling (six), athletics (five), rowing (four) and sailing (four).

The cycling target appears something of an under-estimate given Britain won nine gold medals alone at March's world track championships in Manchester, northern England.

The likes of Chris Hoy, the world sprint and keirin champion, as well as double reigning world champion Victoria Pendleton will be strong favourites.

But Hoy insisted, "It's a huge mistake to under-estimate your opponents. If you think they're just going to crawl away under a bush and quiver till Beijing then you're wrong."

Marathon world record-holder Paula Radcliffe could be denied the Olympic gold medal missing from her collection, and a chance to banish the memory of her Athens collapse, by a stress fracture of her left femur.

However, triple jumper Phillips Idowu and heptathlete Kelly Sotherton also have a chance of gold in Beijing.

Indeed Idowu, the world indoor champion, is regarded as the favourite for his event.

Despite Idowu's poor outdoor record, Britain's 200O Olympic triple-jump champion Jonathan Edwards believes he can go all the way.

"It will be Phillips's third Olympics so his techique is not going to fall apart now...We have gone into major championships before tipping Phillips to win a medal and he never has. But this time, I think he is ready to shoulder that burden and do it."

Sotherton, bronze medallist in 2004, has become a contender for the gold following reiging Olympic and world champion Carolina Kluft's decision to pull out of the heptathlon to concentrate on the long and triple jumps in Beijing.

And the Swede said of Sotherton, "she really deserves that gold medal."

On the track, world 400m champion Christine Ohuruogu will be keen to prove her shock success last year was no fluke as will runner-up Nicola Sanders.

Sailing has provided plenty of medal success for Britain in recent Games and Sarah Webb has said she will be "devastated" if she and her other 'Three Blondes in a Boat' fail to defend the Yngling class gold medal won in Athens.

Pippa Wilson has replaced Shirley Robertson in the one change to the team that triumphed four years ago and Webb added, "Confidence comes from winning and that's what we're about."

For the first time since the 1980 Moscow Games, the British rowing team will be without either Steve Redgrave or Matthew Pinsent, who won nine gold medals between them.

Nevertheless hopes remain high for the men's coxless fours, which features Athens champion Steve Williams.

The lightweight men's double of Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter have yet to lose a race all season while the women's quad scull have been world champions for the last three years.

At the last Olympics, Britain's lone boxing competitor Amir Khan, now a rising professional star, won a silver medal.

But eight boxers - led by world lightweight champion Frankie Gavin - will be wearing the British vest in Beijing.

Medal success in China is also seen as vital to maintaining public support ahead of the 2012 London Olympics, already much criticised for their cost.

Nothing though has damaged global public confidence in athletics, still the centrepiece of any Olympics, more than a succession of doping scandals.

And the drugs issue is assured of a fresh airing in Britain even before the Games start in August.

Dwain Chambers, Britain's leading 100m runner this year, announced on Thursday he will mount a legal challenge to the British Olympic Association by-law which leaves him with a lifetime Games ban despite the fact he has already served a two-year suspension for taking the banned steroid tetrahydrogestrinone (THG).

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