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Essex fencers lose out on shot at London Olympic glory

By Brentwood Gazette  |  Posted: June 26, 2012

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TWO of our major London 2012 hopes have heartbreakingly missed out on a place at the Olympics.

Fencers Chrystall Nicoll and Alex O'Connell, who train at Brentwood School, were both snubbed for wildcard picks by the British Fencing Association.

They and two other athletes then had their appeals thrown out by independent arbitrators.

Nicoll, who lives in Wickord, and fellow appellant Jo Hutchison are the two highest-placed Britons on the FIE's international women's sabre rankings.

But instead Sophie Williams and Louise Bond-Williams – who are personally trained by Jon Salfield – were selected in the Team GB squad.

O'Connell, who lives in Shenfield missed out on a men's sabre place to James Honeybone. Honeybone is also trained by Salfield but is also higher up the world rankings.

It was Salfield's involvement in the final selection process which promoted the appeal on the grounds that he had been biased in his choice of nominations.

But those claims have been dismissed by Sports Resolution UK.

Nicoll and O'Connell saw Salfield's job as a 'critical role' in the squad selection according to the official adjudication report, which read: "This is the aspect of the case which has given the appeal panel the greatest concern.

"It was he who took the [Performance Team] meeting through the form, rankings and performance trajectories of each sabre candidate. It is true that he left the room to allow the rest of the team to consider its views, in order to avoid the apparent conflict of interest inherent in his position, but that was after he had laid out his interpretation of the performance data."

But, the report concluded: "The role of Jon Salfield did not make the process as a whole unfair. The conflict of interest was declared and known to the selectors."

Nicoll, 25, says she is now considering her future in the sport.

Speaking to the Gazette from the European Championships in Legnano, Italy she said: "I have not decided (about my future).

"It's too early to make any decisions about that. I'm going to take some time to re-assess. Obviously it has been a difficult time and I don't want to make any rash decisions."

O'Connell, 24, is facing up to the reality of missing out on the Games in his home country but plans to keep on fencing.

He competed at the Beijing Olympics four years ago but a change of coach just prior to the Olympic qualification period in March last year led to some below-par performances.

He didn't qualify for London through his world ranking and then missed out on a second chance when he was only chosen as first reserve for the European Zonal Qualifiers earlier his year.

He told the Gazette: "I'm just disappointed that I'm not taking part.

"I did the best I could and I did not qualify. It would have been great to be given the nod but it did not pan out that way and I'm obviously disappointed.

"I think it was a difficult process for everyone involved and I guess they (the selectors) did the best they could."

On the emotional strain of missing out, he said: "I think it ebbs and flows a bit. I've been working hard but this hasn't been my whole career. I was lucky enough to compete in Beijing but this has been the last four years of my life.

"It's obviously a big blow but I'm proud of the fact that I've given it 110 per cent everyday. It just hasn't worked out in the end and that's one of the things about sport."

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