Britain is setting its sights on finishing fourth in overall medals in the 2012 Olympics in London. Always practical, the Brits know they have zero chance of winning more medals than the U.S., Russia or China, the Wall Street Journal reports. So the host country is training athletes in more obscure sports like flatwater canoeing, hoping to snag a medal of some color.
The British aren't trying for big-ticket draws like swimming or track and field. Instead, sports officials have analyzed past competitions to identify areas where the competition appears weak. Hence the interest in sports such as team handball, women's sprint kayak and flatwater canoeing.
Facing a dearth of ready-made competitors, Britain launched several training programs, modeled on the idea behind the Soviet and East German state systems for elite athletes decades ago: that young people with the right physical and mental attributes but no experience can be turned into champions.
For an added boost, UK Sport is also retraining champions retired in one sport to do something else where age matters less. In "Project Swap Shop," gymnasts are becoming divers, for example. (They have the same strong abs.)
UK Sport put out a call on TV, in newspapers and online in February for tall men (6-foot-3 and up) and women (5-foot-11 and up), for a program called Sporting Giants. About 4,800 people applied for team handball, volleyball and rowing.
I have always admired British pluck and remember fondly Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards, the incompetent ski jumper of a Winter Olympics past. I may just watch flatwater canoeing in 2012 to see if there needs to be a rescue attempt of some poor sap wearing the Union Jack who is drowning. --Jim Buzinski