By Duncan Mackay
British Sports Internet Writer of the Year

March 1 - Britain is to take-up its host nation qualification places for weightlifting at next year's Olympics in London, boosting the chances of teenager Zoe Smith (pictured) competing, it has been announced today.

Up to five athletes, three men and two women, will be able to represent weightlifting as part of Team GB, the British Olympic Association (BOA) have ruled.

To be eligible to automatically take up a host nation place, a weightlifter will have to consistently meet the minimum A standard set by British Weight Lifting.

"British weightlifters have come a long way since 2007 when there were no athletes in the top 10 at the European Championships; last year three female and one male athlete finished in the top 10 at the Europeans," said Andy Hunt, the chief executive of the BOA and Chef de Mission at London 2012.

"In terms of participation, British Weight Lifting has played their part in making sure that more people across the nation can engage in the sport: weightlifting now has 77 clubs, with 23 of those added in the last two years.

"We are confident that the sport will do its utmost to capitalise on the opportunity that competing at the London 2012 Olympic Games presents."

Britain only had one competitor at Beijing in 2008, Michaela Breeze, who finished seventh in the women's 63kg category.

"In Beijing, I was privileged to experience weightlifting live and watch Michaela Breeze compete at the Olympics," said Sir Clive Woodward, Team GB Deputy Chef de Mission and BOA Director of Sport.

"The atmosphere in the arena was unbelievable.

"I am really pleased that a deserving few of the British weightlifters will have the opportunity to compete at the London 2012 Olympic Games in front of an inspiring home crowd.

"The athletes now have a confirmed goal to train and aim towards and I wish them all the very best in their preparations."

The decision was, naturally, welcomed by Britain's weightlifters, including Scottish 2010 Commonwealth Games silver medallist Peter Kirkbride (pictured), currently competing in the 94kg category.

"It’s fantastic news for the sport of weightlifting to be recognised in this way," he said.

"We’ve been around for hundreds of years and it’s going to be great to be at the home Games in 2012.

"We’re all training hard to make sure we are the athletes chosen to fill those Olympic places.

"It’s going to be great whoever goes, but for us as individuals we still have to qualify so the pressure is not off us."

Welsh athlete Natasha Perdue, who is currently competing in the 69kg category and has competed at the last two Commonwealth Games, was also thrilled by the decision.

"It’s great to hear that British lifters will have the opportunity to go to the Olympics," she said.

"We’re very much a team, and all of the athletes are dedicated to getting to the Games.

"Obviously I want to go to the Olympics, but all the athletes are good friends and as long as the best athletes go forward to represent Britain that’s what counts.

"Britain deserves the best, whoever that may be."

Britain's weightlifting head coach Tamas Feher was optimistic that the BOA's confidence would be rewarded.

"It’s great news to hear that the British Olympic Association has given us their backing and guaranteed host nation places," he said.

"It’s great to get recognition for the athletes that all their hard work is being noticed.

"The athletes train so hard and they will all do their best for Great Britain."

The Olympic Qualifying Standards Panel is currently working with the National Governing Bodies to finalise and approve the qualification standards and pathway to London 2012 for every sport.

In many cases, sports will qualify for the Games through their performance in specific international events.

For a select group of sports, however, the qualification process may involve the use of a Host Nation Qualification Place but the BOA have made it clear that they will only reward sports who have the ability to deliver a credible performance during London 2012.

The Panel, which includes Hunt, Sir Clive and Sarah Winckless, the chairman of the BOA Athletes Commission, have already given the go-ahead for handball and indoor volleyball to take up their places in London 2012.  

Weightlifting is one of the oldest competitive sports, being one of the seven sports that made up the programme of the first modern Olympic Games at Athens in 1896.

It made sporadic appearances at the Games until 1920 at Antwerp and has been held at all 22 subsequent Olympic Games, with a women’s programme being introduced for the first time at the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

There are currently 15 medal classes at the Olympic Games, across eight male and seven female weight categories.

Weightlifting actually provided Britain with its first-ever Olympic champion thanks to Launceston Elliot, a 21-year-old Indian-born Scotsman who claimed gold in the one-handed lift and silver in the two-handed lift at Athens in 1896.

In the one-hand event Viggo Jensen of Denmark and Elliot had both lifted 111.5 kilograms, but Greece's Prince George awarded the Dane first place for having done so in better style. 

The one-hand event followed immediately with Elliot declining Prince George's offer of a rest break but he asked that he might this time lift after Jensen, as in the two-handed event the Dane had the advantage of lifting after Elliot.

Elliot raised 71.0 kilograms without difficulty whereas Jensen, who had injured his shoulder trying to raise 112.5 kilograms in the two-handed event, could only manage 57.0 kilograms and Britain's first Olympic champion was crowned.

So taken with Elliott was the Greek crowd that one female spectator even offered to marry him, it was claimed.

Britain has not won an Olympic gold medal in the sport since and their last medal was at Los Angeles in 1984 when David Mercer claimed bronze in the middle-heavyweight division.

But hopes are high that the sport is enjoying a resurgence in Britain, led by Smith, who in New Delhi last October became the first British female weightlifter to claim a Commonwealth Games medal when she won bronze.

"We’re very pleased that we’ve been accepted, and look forward to a strong performance in 2012," said Jonathan Fuller, the chairman of British Weight Lifting.

"It’s good to hear that the BOA has recognised that we are on the right track.

"The fact that the BOA has accepted our right to take up host nation places can only be a good thing for the sport and for ensuring that the British weightlifters are the best they can possibly be."

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