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Page last updated at 06:46 GMT, Wednesday, 20 June 2007 07:46 UK

Handball hopefuls take next step

By Phil Harlow & Tom Fordyce

Scoring a late winner in the FA Cup final; holing the decisive putt on the 18th at The Open; hitting an ace on match point in the Wimbledon final - we all have our sporting dreams.

Action from the Euro 2008 qualifying match between Slovenia and Macedonia
Handball is hugely popular in Europe, but has never taken off in the UK

Sadly, for most of us, these sporting ambitions are crippled at an early stage by either a fundamental lack of talent or undermined by a lifestyle unbecoming of a champion athlete.

But the dream of a place on the Great Britain team at the London Olympics in 2012 could be on the verge of turning into reality for one young hopeful on UK Sport's "Sporting Giants" programme.

Tall people - at least 5ft 11in (women) and 6ft 3in (men) - were invited to put themselves forward to see if they could be turned into Olympic-standard rowers, volleyballers or handballers in time for 2012.

More than 4,800 men and women responded, and UK Sport assessed each candidate's application before picking out a small number showing potential for one of the sports.

Tim Maynard, a performance and rehabilitation coach with a background in rugby union, has made it through to the last 45 men on the handball programme.

"It's just unbelievable to think that we're basically halfway there," Maynard, who stands 6ft 3in tall, told BBC Sport.

"If someone told me a year ago I'd be within a few steps of having a chance of going to the Olympics in a sport I'd never tried before, I'd have thought they were mad."

I'm willing to give everything to handball and see how well I get on

Sporting Giants hopeful Tim Maynard

British handball does not exactly have an illustrious record of sporting success behind it, having never competed in the Olympics.

But one of the many perks of hosting the Games is that you automatically qualify for team events like handball, meaning Britain have some serious catching up to do if they are to avoid an Eddie the Eagle-esque display on home soil.

The first part of the process for the men's handball programme saw 280 hopefuls invited to an assessment day in Nottingham.

After having their height, weight, arm span and hand size measured in precise detail, the 240 or so who made it to Nottingham were taught the sport's basic skills and taken through speed and agility drills.

The fledgling players then met other British hopefuls who have already been fast-tracked by being sent out to Denmark to play in the extremely competitive leagues there.

Maynard, who played for London Irish Under-19s as a youngster, also has experience in cricket, basketball, football and athletics.

"The throwing of the ball is much like throwing a cricket ball so I was able to transfer that skill across," he said.

"Similarly with the defensive side of things, playing rugby prepares you for the physicality of it. Rugby has provided an excellent foundation for me, especially in terms of communication in a team sport environment."

Handball hopefuls get measured
British handball hopefuls get measured at the first selection camp

The 23-year-old is determined to make the most of the chance, and had already embarked on a plyometrics (an exercise to increase explosive power) training programme of his own design.

"I see it as a massive opportunity so I've been doing loads of plyometrics to make myself better," he added.

"They sent us a questionnaire basically asking us if we were willing to make major sacrifices to become a world-class athlete - which I'm fully prepared to do.

"I'm due to start a Masters full-time course in physiotherapy in September, but I'm willing to defer that and give everything to handball and see how well I get on.

"I've thought a lot about where this could go and what it could mean. I see it as having one shot at being able to compete in an Olympics which not many people will ever get the chance to do.

"Handball suits me quite well - it's explosive, powerful and quick and that's what I look for in a game. I suppose I've been bitten by the bug now."

Maynard will get the chance to impress at the next stage of the selection process, a two-day camp at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield on 23 and 24 June.

The man whose eye he needs to catch is Allan Lund, the Danish coach appointed as technical adviser for the BHA's World Class programme.

"I was happy with the number that were originally interested," Lund told BBC Sport.

"And when I saw the people who were screened by UK Sport I was much more impressed. It seems there are a great number of physically and mentally well-trained athletes that have come through.

My aim is that the teams will put in a credible performance

BHA technical adviser Allan Lund

"When they came to Nottingham we were pleased with how quickly they were able to get a feeling of the game of handball.

"You cannot judge a person 100% in a few hours but we selected a number of people we were really sure deserved to come a second time in order to be tested again.

"It comes down to individual skills and will demand a lot of work - but a lot of these guys looked as though they were ready to dedicate themselves to the programme.

"The next time we will do technical and tactical stuff on a higher level and they will have training programmes."

The plan is for the trimmed-down group of players to receive specialist training at the development academy in Aarhus, Denmark, with a view to developing a competitive side by 2012.

"My aim is that the teams will put in a credible performance," said Lund.

"There will be 12 nations competing and our goal is that we should be in the top eight.

"When I went home from Nottingham I thought 'this goal is possible'. Many would doubt it can be done but now I think it can be."

see also
Get into handball
12 Oct 05 |  Handball
The 2012 X Factor
03 May 07 |  Olympics 2012
British handball eyes 2012 glory
28 Feb 07 |  Olympics 2012
2012 talent search gets under way
13 Jul 06 |  Olympics 2012
Tall athletes targeted for 2012
27 Feb 07 |  Olympics 2012
BOA bullish on 2012 medal target
20 Feb 07 |  Olympics 2012
Bulldozing for London
17 Nov 06 |  Olympics 2012

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