Michael Bailey , London Olympics correspondent
Thursday, July 26, 2012
The long-time Norfolk Academy of Fencing star Anna Bentley is a true encapsulation of what the London Olympics has brought.
Sneaking out of her day job one lunchtime to see the official host city confirmation for the 2012 Games seven years ago, seeing the joyous celebrations kick-off instantly – and making a giddy promise to herself that fencing would see her compete for Team GB.
And Anna Bentley delivered. The former Norwich High School for Girls pupil is a three-times national champion and is back on form after some injury issues in the lead-up.
Her goals at the Excel Arena are well defined: Help GB’s team collect their first Olympic fencing medal since 1964 in the women’s team foil – although no doubt she will also hope to cause a surprise in the individual foil too.
Born in Aberdeen and a London resident since leaving school, Bentley grew up in Norfolk – something given away by her summer worries Norwich City striker Grant Holt might be leaving her club, when others may have been too wrapped up in Olympics preparation to look beyond their bubble.
But given Bentley’s hunger to succeed and the pure excitement of competing in front of a partisan crowd, her bubble is so good she would have to look outside it for any issues – even if they are arguably on the trivial side.
“This might sound like a silly thing, but I’m just looking forward to being a British athlete at a British Olympics and all the things that brings with it,” said Bentley.
“I’m looking forward to competing and it’s something I think you should just be really excited about. You shouldn’t be scared or afraid of it, which is the route some people go down.”
There will still be plenty of big challenges ahead – dealing with huge crowds, sizeable pressure and a UK spotlight rarely shone on fencing.
At this Games, any Team GB success will be toasted to the hilt – more than ever.
“I’m trying at the moment to get my head around what is coming to be honest,” she added. “One of the pretty daunting things, and exciting at the same time, is the fact there will be 8,000 people watching us – even at the World Championships there are only 1,000 or fewer. So the sheer volume of people and the fact most of them will be cheering for us, it’s really hard to imagine. But it’s also really exciting – it’s going to help us perform to a higher level.”
Being hosts brings its benefits – say a quota of eight places to compete at the Games. The rest via the usual qualification. But there are issues too.
“It’s about doing justice to why we are there and showing everyone we can compete at that level and we should be there,” said Bentley. “We are not just there to make up the numbers. We really want to show that, because it’s what everyone says about discretionary selection.”
And the last line will, as always, be legacy. A host of sports hope London 2012 will offer a chance to secure extra post-Games participation.
“Fencing isn’t a very well known sport here in Britain, but it’s massive in Europe,” added Bentley. “I just hope we can embrace everything and get fencing out there into the consciousness of the public.”
No doubt a first Olympics fencing medal in almost half a century would help.
Sport: Fencing – Women’s foil, individual and team. From: Bergh Apton. Age: 31
Schedule (Excel Arena) Individual foil – Saturday, July 28: 10.30am – Round of 64, 11.50am – Round of 32, 2.10pm – Round of 16, 3.30pm – Quarter-finals, 6pm – Semi-finals, 7.10pm – Final. Team foil – Thursday, August 2: 9am – Round of 16, 10.30am – Quarter-finals, 12pm – Semi-finals, 3pm – Final.