By Mike Rowbottom

Kelly_SibleyMarch 4 - Britain's table tennis players and their management expressed relief and delight today at the news that Team GB will take up its maximum quota of three male and three female Host Nation Qualification Places at London 2012.

But they insisted the still wanted to qualify the hard way.

"We are very pleased to confirm that Team GB will be represented in both the singles and team table tennis events at the London 2012 Olympic Games," said Andy Hunt, chief executive of the British Olympic Association and Chef de Mission of Team GB.

"The British Table Tennis Federation has demonstrated to us that it will be competitive in 2012, and also that it has a strong legacy plan.

"The number of players we have in this country has risen to two and a half million since October 2008, we know that 300,000 people enjoy playing competitive table tennis regularly, and that half a million school children now play the sport every week."

"It's a fantastic boost to us," said women's team manager Alan Cooke, who confirmed that Britain would fill the maximum places on offer to it - for three men and three women.

"We have been a little bit nervous just waiting for the decision.

"But what we are focusing on now is trying to qualify by rights, knowing that we have this wild card in reserve."

With each continent holding its own initial Olympic trials, Britain will target the European qualifying competition, which offers 13 direct Olympic places.

There will be a second opportunity to earn a place at the world qualifying event which is due to take place in April next year.

"I think we have a good chance of qualifying," Cooke added.

"While we still have a very young squad, at the last Games we were very close to qualifying.

"The European qualifier is where we are looking to peak."


Darius Knight (pictured), in Sheffield for this weekend's National Championships, also expressed relief at the decision.

"I was a little bit nervous, but the decision has given me confidence to keep going in search of the British number one spot to qualify in the singles."

He added: "Playing in the Olympics means everything to me.

"Competing in front of the home crowd is an opportunity that will never come again.

"It's a chance to put table tennis on the map in this country.

"Everyone at one stage has played table tennis or knows of it.

"It's a great sport because it can be played anywhere, you don't need lots of money, and your size, age, race, religion or ability doesn't matter.

Paul Drinkhall, the current GB men's number one, said: "My ultimate dream has always been to be an Olympic medallist and to have the chance to compete in my home country is better than any dream.

"As a team we have made good progress in recent years and we will aim to produce our best performances to excite the home fans at London 2012."

Kelly Sibley, Britain's number one woman player, said: "Now that we know that there will be Olympic places for us, we can all go back and give it 120 per cent in training and competition."

Hunt added: "British Table Tennis has proven to us that the young squad of players are capable of delivering a credible performance on the field of play in 2012.

"In winning the silver medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, England's men finished above three nations who competed in the last Olympic Games in Beijing.

"Real progress is being made in elite performance; there are now four British players - two male, two female – ranked in the top 200 in the world compared with none prior to the Beijing 2008 Olympics."

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