Norwich fencer Anna Bentley takes her own journey from bid to Olympic berth
Norwich fencer Anna Bentley has made good on the promise she uttered at Trafalgar Square in 2005 – and cannot wait to compete at this summer’s London Olympics.
The 31-year-old ex-Norwich High School for Girls pupil was working in one of the capital’s offices when she bunked off lunch to take in the bid announcement for the 2012 Olympics, being watch by a bumper crowd in central London.
And much like Stratford’s own journey from bid to first bang of an opening ceremony firework, confirmation of Bentley’s inclusion in Team GB’s foil squad earlier this month completed her own bid to compete at her home Olympics.
“I always watched the Olympics as a kid and never really thought I would be taking part in one,” admitted the Aberdeen-born Salle Boston member.
“But in 2005 when they announced London was getting the Olympics, I was actually at Trafalgar Square for it. I was working nearby and I snuck off and made up some excuse to have a long lunch.
“I had just started my first season of international competition and sat there for that announcement and thought ‘right, that’s it – I’m going for it; I want to be there’.”
Lengthy hours at her Lea Valley training base end over the coming days for Bentley, with a training camp in Poland next week before the fencers stop at Loughborough’s Team GB holding camp and then on to the Olympic village in Stratford ahead of the opening ceremony on July 27.
But her fencing background is all about Norwich, travelling from Bergh Apton to take part in Andrew Sowerby’s Norfolk Academy of Fencing classes from the ages of 11 to 17.
“Andy did a come and try session at school and after that I joined his club and through them I did the age group stuff through Norfolk,” said the Norwich City fan, whose parents Peter and Kay still live in the city. “It kept getting wider. It became East Anglia and then the east, and then national competition.
“It’s funny because I remember my parents telling me when I moved to London, I hooked into one of the big clubs and the coach there has been my coach ever since – and he was saying what a good foundation I had. If you’re taught wrongly when you are young it’s really hard to unlearn those habits, and they’ve always said Andy did a really good job.”
Britain’s last Olympic fencing medal came 48 years ago, after Henry ‘Bill’ Hoskyns took epee silver in Tokyo. And for 2012 it has taken a lot of time, sacrifice and substantial backing by sponsors Beazley for Team GB to get a full squad competing at their home Olympics.
Bentley, national champion for the last three years, has her own aims for London as she gears up for the individual and team foil events.
“My priority is the team event because that is what I got my wild card for,” she said. “That’s where my strength is and the goal for the team is to make the final and then from there, anything can happen.
“Individually I’ve got my own goals. I’d like to make the top 16. But the team is where all my focus is at the moment.”
Team GB’s fencing squad had a tough time of it a this month’s European Championships in Legnano, Italy – but Bentley believes there were obvious reasons for a few strange results.
“We had a very difficult championships, just because the Europeans are normally at the end of July and we get a six-week build-up, go abroad and prepare properly,” said Bentley.
“This year, because of the Olympics it’s just squashed in between. So our management and the team decided we were just going to train through the Europeans because obviously they don’t matter – it’s all about the Olympics.
“We did our heaviest training the week before we went to Italy and I think you could see that in all the results. The Italians only took one medal, where usually they sweep the board.
“I hate losing as much as everyone does, and it’s really hard to put yourself on the line knowing you are not physically ready for it.
“But at the same time, you can’t lose your confidence because you know you are not going to feel like that when it comes to the Olympics.”