Olympics

Athletes feel the pressure ahead of home Olympics

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LONDON (AP)

As construction crews wrap up their work in London's Olympic Park, the pressure to deliver in those new venues is shifting to Britain's athletes leading up to the 2012 Games.

The British team hopes to match its fourth-place finish in the medals table at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where it exceeded expectations with 47 medals.

As track cyclist Chris Hoy put it after Beijing: The ''plucky British losers'' are no more. With a year to go, the expectations are high for the first Olympics on home soil since 1948.

If Hoy emulates his Beijing exploits in the newly built London velodrome, he would become the most successful British Olympian, surpassing the five golds won by rower Steve Redgrave.

''I spoke with Steve specifically about the pressures of Sydney when everything was about him, everyone was watching him,'' the 35-year-old Scotsman said. ''You can learn from others, and I have spoken to them and listened to their words of wisdom.

''But I thrive on the pressure, and when you get down into that real battle situation there are no excuses. This is the Olympics. There is no place to hide. It's stand up and be counted and that's when I tend to perform at my best.''

Hoy and most of the British athletes participating in celebrations on Wednesday in London to mark the one-year countdown to the opening ceremony, still have to qualify.

Fixating on the Olympics too early has its pitfalls.

''There are four major championships between now and the Olympics. There's a tendency sometimes to get caught up in it too soon, so I'm just trying to pace myself,'' Hoy said.

Hoy and the rest of the British team have a year to figure out how to eclipse the 19 golds, 13 silvers and 15 bronze brought back from China.

''What have we got to get right? It's getting our athletes trained,'' London Mayor Boris Johnson said. ''We can't lose to France or Australia! We came fourth last time. We've got to make sure we do better this time. And that's going to be tough.''

Having competed in major championships for more than a decade, Hoy can cope with the glare of the public and media spotlights.

Britain's swimming star from Beijing - two-time gold medalist Rebecca Adlington - is still adapting to life in the limelight.

In 2009, Adlington's appearance was mocked on a BBC satire show, with a comedian joking that she resembled ''someone who's looking at themselves in the back of a spoon.'' There was widespread outrage that her looks could be ridiculed by the state broadcaster. The BBC's management agreed, ruling that Frankie Boyle's comment was both ''humiliating'' and ''offensive.''

After such unwelcome attention, it is no surprise to find Adlington more hesitant about how she is portrayed.

''You have to have a bit more responsibility just because things can get a bit twisted by the media,'' she said. ''I have to make sure I am doing what is right for my swimming. I don't want to go out and party all the time ... I've got a job to do at the end of the day. I can do all that (partying) when I retire.''

World heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis finds it tough to escape the prying eyes of inquisitive sports fans.

''I'm always a little bit paranoid in the supermarket,'' she told The Guardian. ''When you're an athlete people think you must be really obsessed with nutrition and you've got to eat really healthily, but I've got such a sweet tooth so I always have some chocolate in my trolley.

''I have to cover it up with a lettuce or something. Or I just go, 'Yeah, I'm gonna burn it off' as I walk down every aisle.''

Ennis missed the Beijing Games because of an injury but is considered one of Britain's best medal prospects in the new 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium.

''It's a lot of pressure because I missed the last Olympics, which was just a horrible feeling,'' she said. ''I try not to think about it too much because that would just drive you mad. It does creep into your mind.

''People have basically put the gold medal around my neck. And it's over a year to go, and so much can happen.''

Britain's basketball team is not considered much of a medal contender. The team was granted a home-nation qualification spot after British basketball officials pledged to use the special dispensation to help the sport grow in the U.K.

''Teams might underestimate us,'' said Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng, who could be the team's only NBA star. ''We always seem to be the underdogs every game we play, but we win. I guess it takes the pressure off but still feel we do not necessarily get all the credit we deserve.''

Tom Daley, a 17-year-old diver, experienced a setback on Sunday when he relinquished his world 10-meter platform title to Qiu Bo of China, finishing fifth at the world championships in Shanghai.

Daley announced plans to take a six-month break from school before the Olympics.

''I will be able to work on my consistency, with nothing else to worry about,'' he said. ''It's important when you are diving against the Chinese. They are so far ahead of everyone else.''

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