British fencing selection for London 2012 hit by controversy
Friday, 01 June 2012
June 1 - The British Olympic Association (BOA) have named seven fencers who will represent the hosts at this summer's Olympic Games, although the selections have proved controversial.
At the centre of it is German-born Sophie Williams (pictured), who is picked for the women's sabre despite being only fourth ranked in Britain.
She was chosen ahead of British number one and two Jo Hutchison and Chrystall Nicholl.
Hutchison and Nicholl appealed against their omissions, citing their superior results in recent competitions and world rankings, but the BOA confirmed the disputed nominations.
British Fencing claim the decision to pick Williams, 21, was not just based on current form but her future potential, although the other selection Louise Bond-Williams, who made her Olympic debut at Athens in 2004 is, at 30, four years older than both Hutchison and Nicholl.
Adding to the controversiy is that Jon Salfield, Williams's club coach, is also Britain's national sabre coach.
But British Fencing claim he declared the relevant information about the candidates and left the selection meeting so as not to influence any decision.
They have also been forced to deny reports that Williams's father, Jon, is a major financial backer of the sport, insisting his only contribution is an annual £40 membership fee.
The controversy has overshadowed the rest of the selections which illustrate how far the sport has come in Britain since London were awarded the Olympics.
At Beijing 2008 Britain took just three fencers to the Olympics and the nation has improved dramatically in recent years, taking 13 World Cup medals and four European Championship top three places since 2009.
That haul included a first major championship team medal for Britain in three decades.
Foil Richard Kruse (pictured above right) is the biggest name on the seven-person line up, and will hope to make it third time lucky having competed at Athens 2004 and Beijing four years' later, despite yet failing to win a medal.
His eighth place in Athens was the best finish by a British fencer since Tokyo 1964, when Henry Hoskyns claimed silver in the epee, having won gold in the team event four years' earlier.
Kruse won a World Cup gold in 2009, as well as silver at both the European Fencing Championship in the same year and the 2011 World Cup.
"This will be my third Olympics and it's so special that it's in London," said Kruse.
"Qualification was only job one.
"My focus is now fully on achieving my life's dream, Olympic gold.
"We won the team competition at the test event in November last year so we already have had a great experience at ExCeL.
"Myself and the team will be working hard to repeat that in just over 50 days.
"My thanks go to British Fencing and our sponsors for their continued support, UK Sport for their funding and the BOA for selecting me.
"I will do everything to repay your backing at London 2012."
James Davis (pictured above, right), the only British fencer ever to medal at the Cadet European Championships, joins Kruse in the foil event.
In the women's foil Natalia Sheppard, who was born in Gdansk, Poland, secured her spot by winning a European Olympic Zonal qualifying event in Bratislava, Slovakia last April.
Corinna Lawrence, a double junior Commonwealth champion and 11-time British champion, was selected for the epee.
James Honeybone in the men's sabre completes the lineup, and Team GB Chef de Mission Andy Hunt paid tribute to the seven.
"I am delighted to welcome the seven fencing athletes as official members of Team GB," he said.
"The fencing squad announced today has a good balance of youth and experience.
"It is exciting to select four fencers aged 21 and under.
"These young athletes have a great opportunity to compete at an Olympic Games in the early stages of their career and their potential bodes will for the future of British fencing.
"I am sure that each athlete selected today will deliver a very credible and competitive performance at London 2012, and that the experience of competing in the Olympic Games will benefit them greatly in furthering their international fencing careers."
There will be a further three athletes joining the fencing lineup before the start of the Olympic fencing tournament at ExCeL in London at the end of next month.
"We've got a great blend of experience and youth in the team, with Richard Kruse qualifying for his third Olympics and Louise Bond-Williams being selected for a host nation place for her second," said Alex Newton, the British Fencing performance manager.
"Natalia Sheppard (pictured above, right) is selected having secured qualification at the European Zonal competition.
"Alongside them in host nation places will be the two James [Honeybone and Davis], Corinna Lawrence and Sophie Williams, all young fencers who will be looking to gain vital experience of the Olympic environment as they make the next significant step in their promising careers.
"I think that we have a really well balanced team and I am delighted to be leading such a dedicated and talented group of athletes.
"I have every confidence that each member of the Team will deliver a very competitive and credible performance at London 2012.
"For the younger athletes, the experience of competing in the Olympic Games will also benefit them greatly for Rio  and beyond."