British team to overhaul preparations for London 2012

By Ollie WilliamsBBC Sport
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Britain's fencers are overhauling their preparations for London 2012 after a disappointing display at the European Championships in Sheffield.

GB had strong medal hopes in two events but finished nowhere near the podium.

"We start on 1 August with something fundamentally different to the way we've done things in the past," said new performance director Alex Newton.

"I think there are significant things we can do differently, and better, in a very short space of time."

Newton, who took up her position in May, had hoped to see Britain's Richard Kruse and Laurence Halsted lead the team's bid for medals in the men's individual and team foil events.

Foil is one of fencing's three disciplines alongside epee and sabre, and the British men are among the world's best.

But neither Kruse nor Halsted reached the last 16 of the individual foil and Britain finished fifth in the team event, despite winning the bronze last year.

No GB squad members in any discipline have yet come close to earning a medal at the first major fencing tournament to be held in Britain for a generation, which concludes on Tuesday.

"It is a huge disappointment and we should have performed better, based on the amount of investment in men's foil from a financial and resource perspective," said Newton.

"We're at a mini-watershed now. I've identified all the issues we need to address and we have between the Euros and the Worlds [in Sicily this October] to start work on that."

The changes will partly involve adapting elements from the successful training regimes of top teams such as Russia and France.

"We can look at what the world's best are doing and match it, then do it better," Newton - who previously worked for funding body UK Sport - told the BBC.

"We have looked at their training programmes, the way they utilise science and medicine, what they do immediately pre-fight at competitions.

"The way some teams are preparing made me think: 'Are we as sharp as we could be?' Possibly not. My little blue book is full of notes. How do we do what they're doing and adapt it to make it British?"

Asked if one year was too short a period for the new programme to have an impact on Britain's Olympic chances, Newton said: "I'll be able to tell you after the World Championships.

"I would hope [we can make an impact], but I haven't got enough scientific data to say we can make it, 100%.

"I will know after doing [the new programme] for 10 weeks, going into the World Championships, what difference it has made and whether we can close that gap to the podium."

Britain has not won an Olympic fencing medal since 1964, and this year's travails at European level follow a similarly disappointing World Championships last year in Paris.

Previous performance director Graham Watts left his post following that tournament, clearing the way for Newton's appointment.

Kruse, who has competed at both Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 for Britain, believes the GB squad are currently the fifth-best in the world - but are capable of reaching the podium next year.

"It's doable. Russia, Italy, China and Japan are marginally ahead of us, but we can definitely beat France, Germany and all the other teams," said the 27-year-old.

"I think we can crack Russia relatively soon. Japan and Russia are the two I would be eyeing up to pick off."

Kruse admitted that failure to live up to expectations at European level will only increase the pressure to deliver at the World Championships, the last major tournament before the Olympic Games.

"We were expected to produce a medal here and we didn't do it, so the Worlds now become crucial," he said.

"If we want to be scientific about this - extrapolate the results and show we're going to make something out of the Olympics - then we need to produce some kind of world medal in the individual or team events.

"It's definitely possible, and we have to do it."