GB handball 'ahead of schedule' but seek consistency for 2012

By Nick HopeBBC Olympic sports reporter

British Handball insists there is genuine cause for optimism, despite finishing sixth out of six at the London 2012 Olympic test event.

GB opened their campaign at the Olympic Handball Arena with a shock 22-20 victory over African Champions Angola, but slipped to subsequent defeats against Austriaexternal-link and Slovakia.

"Maybe it was too tough to have three matches in three days, but we are still developing," reflected GB captain Lynn McCaffertyexternal-link.

The team's head coach, Jesper Holmris, added that the team were not only on track but "ahead of schedule," although he feels consistency will be their focus in the coming months.

"It's definitely one of the areas we have to work on but I've seen an improvement in the last year, and we will take that further in the next nine months," the Dane told BBC Sport.

While finishing last in an event designed as a dress-rehearsal for the 2012 Olympics could be viewed as somewhat alarming, in many ways the fact that the British team are even capable of challenging teams inside the world's top 20external-link is an achievement in itself.

Five years ago there was no British Handball team.

From around 5,000 applicants to a talent recruitment initiative in 2007, men's and women's squads were selected and they travelled to Denmark to join a centralised training programme.

However, in 2009 this was closed due to a UK Sport funding shortfall and players were forced to scour the continent for full and part-time contracts - sacrificing friends, family and even married life in a bid to fulfil their Olympic ambitions.

Last year, however, a new funding deal was announced which saw the group return to the UK, to where they are now based in Crystal Palace.

"It's been challenging," GB's Louise Jukes told BBC Sport.

"However, we have all come together and I think that if it hadn't been for the last six months [in Crystal Palace] then we would not have beaten Angola."

In addition to the victory over the African champions, who have qualified for every Olympics since the sport received wide-spread acclaim in Sydney in 2000, Great Britain also pushed world champions Russia close in a narrow European Championship qualification loss in October.

As such, the team are targeting a quarter-finals place at the 2012 Olympics, which would most likely require two victories from their five group games.

"Home advantage is a massive advantage and we have made massive progress," said Holmris.

"I am really impressed with our defence; we need to improve our attack, but our British spirit is fantastic and overall it looks good."

One disappointment for Great Britain is that they will not be heading to Brazil next month for winter training.

They had planned a number of friendlies to co-inside with December's World Championshipsexternal-link, which GB have not qualified for, however organisers have been unable to accommodate Britain into their plans.

The GB team's next competitive internationals will therefore be the European Championship double-header against Poland in March.