GB beach volleyball teams learn from Brazil opener

By Nick HopeBBC Olympic sports reporter

GB's top beach volleyball duo admit they need to find more consistency as they aim for London 2012 success.

Denise Johns and Lucy Boulton - ranked 40th in the world last year - qualified for the World Tourexternal-link opener in Brazil but were beaten in the first round proper.

"We played a tough Austrian team in the first round and their experience got the best of us" said Boulton.

Johns reflected: "We showed lots of potential, but need to make our game more consistent."

The duo are next in action in Shanghai, China, from 3 May.

"It was the first tournament of the year and we've already had our ups and downs," Johns added.

In February when the British Olympic Association (BOA) guaranteed Great Britain host-nation positions for two beach volleyball teams (one female and one male) at London 2012, with the event set to take place on Horse Guards Parade.

GB can qualify a second pairing if they achieve a top 16 world rankingexternal-link by 18 June 2012, or potentially through podium finishes at continental and World Cup Olympic qualification events.

Johns and Boulton entered last year's World Tour as GB's number-two pairing, but an impressive 2010 campaign saw them attain 40th in the world rankings and become GB's lead pair for the current campaign.

Great Britain's other 2012 hopefuls Zara Dampney and Shauna Mullinexternal-link had a similar record to their counterparts during qualification, but did not make it through to the main draw.

It came as a bitter blow following what had been viewed as a "successful" winter training period in Australia.

However, they are confident they can turn things around and win a place in London.

"I think the technical and tactical things were all in place, but the nerves and belief - two things you can't practice in the off-season, stopped us from applying the pressure we needed to take the match," said Shauna Mullinexternal-link after defeat to China.

"It's important that we remember all of the hard lessons, the tears, the knocks and the fights, because if we can learn from those we'll become stronger and be able to achieve our goal of reaching the Olympics."

The fact that any British men's teams have made it out on to the World Tour is impressive in itself.

Owing to a shortfall in UK Sport funding, in October last year British Volleyball were forced to drop two of six programmes from funding support - the men's beach and women's indoor teams were the unlucky ones.

Two British beach volleyball pairs - Jody Goodingexternal-link and Gregg Weaverexternal-link plus Steven Grotowski and John Garcia - found the funds to compete in Brazil but found themselves competing against each other in qualifying.

Gooding and Weaver came through in straight-sets but then suffered defeat to number four seeds Brad Keenan and Casey Patterson of the United States.

"We felt comfortable towards the middle of the first set and we were competitive against a very highly ranked team. The Americans then upped their game taking the first set 21-17 and the second set more comfortably," said Weaver.

Whilst the women have an outside chance of qualifying both pairs for the 2012 Olympics, realistically just one male team will make it through to London, by virtue of the host-nation allowance.

Further pairings are expected to challenge the two who began the season in Brazil, with Robin Miedzybrodzki and Tom Lord currently preparing for the start of their campaign in Greece and Sheaf brothers, Jake and Luke, also expressing an interest in joining the tour.