World Gymnastics 2011: Louis Smith & GB 'can challenge for medals'

By Ollie WilliamsBBC Sport in Tokyo

Britain's male gymnasts will fight for top honours at London 2012 despite missing their first chance to qualify, their performance director believes.

GB required a top-eight finish in qualifying at the World Championships in Tokyo, but only managed 10th place.

Louis Smith reached the pommel horse final but can no longer secure an individual Olympic place at this event.

"We're still a strong team that will challenge for the top places when we get through to London," said Tim Jones.

"Monday was by no means the endgame. We have another opportunity [at the Olympic test event, to be held in London in January] and we are confident we can qualify a team the second time around.

"I'm not going to tell you everybody's devastated because we know we're not a top-three team in the world as yet. Qualifying here was by no means a certainty."

While most gymnasts who win medals at this week's World Championships will officially secure their place at the Olympics, Smith cannot as he and the GB team did not follow new rules from world governing body FIG.

Smith only competed on one set of apparatus - his specialism, the pommel horse - while the rules demand that, if a gymnast does not qualify as part of a team, they must complete three pieces of apparatus to within 85% of the average qualifying score on that apparatus in Tokyo, and then win a medal.

However, Jones is confident that Beijing 2008 bronze medallist Smith and his counterparts will seal qualification at January's test event, where the nations ranked ninth to 16th from Tokyo will fight it out for four remaining team slots at the Games.

"We've been clear that ours is a team plan," he said. "We're not looking at the plans of individuals and the best format this week was for Louis to do his one piece and the strength of the other boys to see us through.

"That wasn't the case, but I still think that was the right plan for us."

BBC gymnastics commentator Mitch Fenner was less sure of Britain's approach.

"I think Louis's problem is they made the mistake of thinking they were more than likely going to qualify so he'd only work one piece," said Fenner.

"It's not the end of the world, but they came unstuck."

Smith almost always competes solely on the pommel horse, whereas others - such as Dan Purvis, who reached Friday's men's all-around final with an assured qualifying performance of his own - regularly compete on all six pieces of apparatus.

Purvis will meet the Olympic qualification criteria if he wins a medal on Friday but, importantly, team qualification wipes out that of individuals from the same nation.

If, as expected, GB qualify their team in January, Purvis is not guaranteed to be selected even if he qualifies himself here - though Jones also admits Smith's place in any team for London 2012 is not secure.

"That is a different conversation we'll need to have as we close in on London: how we utilise those five places [for British men] when we get to the Games," said Jones.

"Do we shoot out for the best team result possible or stack up the team with individual apparatus specialists, as some other teams choose to do? That gives you more firepower when it comes to aiming for medals across the board.

"Reputations aren't what matter when we come to selecting our team, it's about picking the best team for the day."

But Fenner is among many who believe Smith, as a world-leading pommel horse worker and Britain's first individual Olympic gymnastics medallist in a century, is certain to be selected once British qualification is assured.

"I cannot envisage any scenario where Louis and the guys won't be at London 2012," he said.

"The luxury of one specialist just focused on winning medals is one Britain can afford.

"If he was just a final prospect, that's a different matter. He'd be working all-around [the six apparatus] like the others.

"But they have a guy who can win gold if they let him focus on it."

Britain's women, who qualified their team for the Olympics during Saturday's action in Tokyo, will not travel to January's test event and can instead concentrate on preparations for the Games.

Should the men join them, it will be the first full complement of gymnasts Britain has sent to an Olympics since Los Angeles 1984, which was boycotted by the Eastern Bloc's gymnastics powerhouses.

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