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FEATURE: From handball to rowing, Britain finds its sporting giants By Simon Cambers, dpa

Europe
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London (dpa) - Five years ago, Bobby White had barely heard of handball, let alone played it.

On Thursday, the 29-year-old former semi-professional footballer captained the Great Britain team in the third match of their debut in the Olympic Games.

Britain‘s 32-21 defeat by Argentina was their third in a row and their first taste of the Olympics will end at the group stage.

But for White and nine other British athletes in the London Games, being involved at all is down to their involvement in a special talent identification scheme.

"Sporting Giants" began in 2007 as an initiative from UK Sport to attract potential athletes into sports they had not tried before, so long as they were tall, young and athletic.

More than 4,000 applied, including White, who traded in football for handball, with the dream of playing in the Olympics keeping him going through an intensive training system.

"It‘s been amazing," said White, once a goalkeeper with Newport Pagnell, a non-league football club in England.

"I never thought I‘d get to the Olympic Games and to be playing in such a magnificent arena with these adoring fans is absolutely brilliant.

"I‘m really gutted about the result and that we didn‘t manage to perform, but we‘re a very young team, we‘ve got a good future ahead of us."

White met the criteria as being at least 6ft 3in tall (1.90 metres - 5ft 11in or 1.80m for women) and between the ages of 16 and 25.

Another of the 10 was former hockey player Helen Glover, who won the gold medal with Heather Stanning in the women‘s rowing pair event on Wednesday, having not even held an oar until 2008.

"They tested 4,500 of us in groups of 200 at a time," Glover said after her victory.

"I remember sitting in a room in Bisham Abbey and someone saying: ‘A gold medallist in 2012 could be sat in this room. Look around you.‘ I thought: ‘Right, I‘m going to make that me.‘ It was quite surreal."

White said it was imperative that the Sporting Giants programme continued. "I think it‘s a must for talent-identification in the UK," he told dpa.

"It‘s already proven it with Helen Glover securing a gold medal yesterday, that‘s absolutely fantastic and there‘s four boys from Sporting Giants in this squad.

"There could have been more but unfortunately they didn‘t stick with it. It‘s OK having the physical attributes but you‘ve got to have the mental (strength) as well.

"A lot of boys fell by the wayside but it‘s definitely something that handball can still use as a tool to gather more players.

"Hopefully in the future we‘ll bring some even bigger guys because as you can see in this tournament, we‘re not that big. I‘m 6ft 4in but I am still one of the average height fellas."

White believes that the television exposure handball has received at the Olympics will help to encourage other Britons into the sport so that they can begin to challenge the more established European nations.

"The responses I‘ve had on Twitter and stuff like that have been absolutely amazing," he said.

"All it needs now is the right number of coaching staff, the right number of opportunities in the UK for kids to get involved, and adults as well.

"It‘s fantastic for boys and girls. Schools can get hold of it and really take it on. I think it‘s going to have a really bright future in this country."

Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London organizing committee LOCOG, popped into the Copper Box to get a taste for himself and came away convinced.

"I think the athletes have now called the handball arena "the box that rocks", the two-time Olympic 1500 metres champion said.

"I tried to record a short interview. It took about four attempts just to be able to get any noise (voice sound) onto a video at all. It was an extraordinary scene." dpa scl bwh

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