Photo gallery: Norwich’s Anna Bentley helps Team GB foil fencing girls into London Olympics top eight
It was a tall order more often than not – but Norwich fencer Anna Bentley and her Team GB foil colleagues did what they set out to do 12 months ago.
They can sit back in the Olympic Village on Friday morning in the knowledge they are in the world's top eight as a nation – and when you are trying to punch above your weight as much as Bergh Apton's Bentley with colleagues Sophie Troiano and Natalia Sheppard, that is definitely some achievement.
Their big clash was the first clash early on Thursday, bright and early as the trio took on Egypt for the sole remaining place in the quarter-finals.
And GB did not disappoint, looking a cohesive unit flowing with team spirit and energy the British girls kept their composure as Egypt's trio regularly threatened a comeback. Bentley and company came home as 45-34 winners. Pats on the bag were regular and well meant.
From there they did not have enough to cash in on their progress – but the key was that progress was made in the first place, in a room filled to the brim with fencing's national giants.
'Beating Egypt was a personal best for us, to get into the top eight,' said the ex-Norwich High School for Girls pupil Bentley. 'That was the first goal so we were super happy about that and that was like a business performance. We just had to get the job done under all that pressure.
'That is what we have been working on for this whole year, is to make the top eight here. We just went and approached it after as if anything else was a bonus. We just tried to finish as high as we could and do ourselves proud, do justice to all the hard work we have put in.'
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Success against Egypt earned them a last eight tie with Italy – whose trio included the Olympic gold, silver and bronze medallists from the individual foil event on day one of the Games.
And their class told, as GB went down 42-14 – Sheppard picking up a draw against bronze medallist and Olympic fencing legend Valentina Vezzali, while Bentley earned half of GB's points including a 5-3 loss to silver medallist Arianna Errigo and 5-2 to Olympic champion Elisa di Francisca.
The classification clashes came and went. A 43-20 defeat to Poland and then 30-21 to Japan, where Bentley made way for Martina Emanuel after her opening round robin clash, left the British women eighth in the GB fencing team's highlight of the Games to date.
'Against Italy we just wanted to show our best performance against them,' added Bentley of the eventual team winners. 'It's not really a match-up. It's like trying to beat Barcelona in football. It's like, what do you do?
'There are three of them and there is not one weak link to exploit. So I think we did some good actions and we can take a lot of positives out of that. But it was a massive learning curve for us.
'They are super experienced, technically very strong. Vezzali is 38 and three times an Olympic champ. The worst she's done at an Olympics was a bronze medal here – and that's ridiculous. So it's the experience. The structure they are in. They just come out really confident and are quite arrogant on the piste – maybe we need to learn to be a little bit more like them.'