With less than three months to go before the 2012 London Olympic Games open on July 27, the Danish Olympic team is still taking shape. So far the National Olympic Committee and Sports Confederation of Denmark (DIF) has only made 28 official selections, but a large number of individuals and teams have almost certainly secured their places by meeting Olympic qualification standards in recent competitions.
With some sportspeople’s inclusion just a formality, and others’ hanging on qualification events that will take place over the next few weeks, Denmark could be set to field its largest Olympic contingent since the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Team Danmark’s head of Olympic sports, Per Boldt Jørgensen, is happy with the Danish sportspeople’s smooth preparations leading up to the London Games.
“When we look upon it with Team Danmark’s eyes, everything is, until now, running as predicted and in accordance with our goal setting with the different sports federations. And it seems today as if we will have over 100 participants,” he said.
The Danish Olympic team’s long-standing chef de mission, Jesper Frigast Larsen, is also confident about the team’s size and strength.
“I would be very disappointed if we don’t reach 100,” he says. “All of our A sportspeople have qualified, except for a very few, so we also know that we have a lot of quality in the team.”
The DIF and Team Danmark predict that Danish sportspeople will win seven medals in the sports in which they have done well in recent World or European Championships, or equivalent events, or have high world rankings. Swimming, handball and tennis are clear focal points due to high profile international competitors like Lotte Friis, Jeanette Ottesen Gray, Mikkel Hansen and Caroline Wozniacki, and sailing, cycling, rowing, badminton also feature serious medal contenders.
So which members of the Danish Olympic squad have the momentum going into the games, which ones are in for a challenge, and who is already out of the picture?
Whose star is rising?
Denmark’s status in swimming has gained great momentum since 2008 when Friis won a bronze medal in the women’s 800m freestyle in Beijing. Friis won silver in the same event at the 2011 World Championships and Ottesen the women’s 100m freestyle came joint first in.
With rising stars Rikke Møller Pedersen, Mie Østergaard Nielsen and the Faroe Islands’ biggest sports name Pál Joensen making significant improvements in the past year, the Danish swimming team could come home with several medals if things go their way.
“I think we’ll make seven or maybe even eight Olympic finals in swimming,” Team Danmark’s Michael Andersen predicted. “For the last World Championships in swimming Denmark was up near the top ten and that’s amazing.”
Stine Nielsen, a 21-year-old rifle shooter, picked up four gold medals at the national championships and finished sixth in the World Cup in London in April. Frigast Larsen says that Nielsen’s quick progress has impressed the Danish officials.
“As she is so young, we are not promoting her as a big medal hope, because a lot of things can happen. But she’s one that you should keep an eye on, because if she has a perfect day, then she has the potential to be among the top.”
Sportspeople who made less expected charges towards Olympic selection in April are track cyclist Lasse Norman Hansen, who won a bronze medal in the newly introduced Olympic discipline ‘omnium’ at the recent World Championships, bantamweight boxer Dennis Ceylan, who is likely to become Denmark’s first Olympic boxer in 16 years, and marathon runners Jessica Draskau-Petersson and Jesper Faurschou, who both came 22nd in the women’s and men’s divisions of the London Marathon.
Whose challenge is faltering?
Caroline Wozniacki started 2012 as the world number one, but has since lost some momentum, slipping to number six due to a string of losses to top 25 players. Wozniacki has never passed the fourth round at Wimbledon, so her current dip in form will make her even less of a favourite on grass in London.
Denmark’s biggest hope in badminton, Peter Gade, has also suffered a blow to his Olympic preparations, losing his world number four ranking, his top four Olympic seeding, along with his quarter-final match at the final Olympic qualification tournament in India. At 35, Gade intends to retire after what should be his fourth Olympics, but his road to a potential first Olympic medal has just become a little more difficult.
Former top ten table tennis player Michael Maze won bronze in the men’s doubles at the 2004 Athens Games, but has been hampered by a knee injury in the lead-up to the London Games. Maze opted out of the World Championships in March after having already secured his place in the Olympic team.
Whose dead in the water?
The Controversial gold medallists in the 49er sailing class in Beijing, Jonas Warrer and Søren Hansen, won’t get a chance to defend their title in London, missing their last opportunity to qualify when their World Cup race in France was cancelled. 2011 World Championship bronze medallists Simon and Emil Toft Nielsen are also out of the picture as they surprisingly announced their retirement from elite sailing in January.
Denmark won’t get a chance to cheer on their men’s or women’s football teams in London either, which Jørgensen sees as the biggest gap in the Danish Olympic squad.
“When I look on the list [of sports], the only disappointment is soccer, because we hosted the qualification in Denmark.”
Further chances to represent Denmark in 13 sports, including cycling, swimming, rowing and athletics, will be up for grabs from now until the beginning of July.
But the most focus will be on the Danish women’s handball team, which was a disappointing omission from the Beijing Olympic programme. If the 2012 Danish Olympic contingent is going to reach its goal of 100-plus athletes, the women’s handball team must finish in the top two of its qualification series in Denmark against Russia, Tunisia and the Dominican Republic in May.