It's finally Olympic year! It has been a while since I last wrote a blog, 8 months to be precise.
An exciting, hectic, intense 8 months to be even more precise.
I wrote my last blog in April 2011 shorty after leaving my last club Sønderjyske in southern Denmark.
I have since been living in Crystal Palace, London with my Great Britain teammates.
We decided as a team to become a centralised squad a year prior to the Olympic Games. This makes sense in so many ways as it means we can train together day in, day out, improve our game as a team and be the best prepared team at the Games.
It's now February and the improvements have been huge. We may not have the tallest, biggest and best players in the world in our team but we can make sure we are the best working team and best prepared.
I would say we are most definitely on track to achieving this! I have proof.
Becoming centralised wasn't easy at first as finding places to live in London for cheap could never be easy.
But thanks to the support of GLL (Greenwich London Leisure) most of the girls manage to live on site, fifty metres from the training facilities. The rest including myself have found places to live off site around the sports centre.
Again this also didn't prove to be easy and couldn't have been done without the support from my personal sponsors Tasty Limburg and Lloyds TSB Local Heroes. Myself and the girls committed one hundred percent to the programme and without this commitment this would have never worked out.
A normal week in this centralised programme for us consists of six handball sessions, three strength sessions, two cardio sessions, three injury prevention sessions and one recovery session.
All completed with our coaches who have also up rooted to London. These sessions are all tools for us to use to improve our physical state, handball skills and team play.
Back in June after one month of adjusting to life in London we faced our first real test. We had done it back in September 2009 against Finland in the Liverpool Echo arena and were about to do it again. It was the European Championship qualification campaign.
The Championships are to be staged in Holland later this year. We were up against Finland again over two legs. Both legs were played in Crystal Palace, we won both comfortably. Winning by sixteen goals overall, 12 more than we had done two years previous to this.
This meant that we were through to the next round and put in a group with Russia, Montenegro and Poland. Typically the toughest group.
Throughout the summer we spent a lot of time travelling, mostly in a mini bus driving across the border to France and then on to Germany.
The Japanese national team were touring France at the time so we took the initiative to cross the border and play them twice. We took a victory in the first meeting 27-26 a fantastic win for us!
But we couldn't keep it up the day after and lost. However the only thing we took away from our journey to France was the positives, we had won against a strong Japanese team and they weren’t prepared for it and came out all guns blazing in the second match.
Disappointing to lose the day after but something we had to learn from.
We continued to tour France and Germany during the rest of the summer playing in top European club team tournaments.
Getting the chance the play against the likes Larvik, Bayer Levekusen and Toulon, arguably some of the strongest teams out there at the moment. A big challenge for us but also great fun.
We struggled to beat the top teams I just mentioned but on the other hand we weren't completely wiped out by them either. We competed and put up a fight and I personally could really feel a difference in my own performances.
I was playing the best I had ever played, every shot seemed to go in, I felt fit, strong and confident.
Not only was I feeling and seeing the benefits as a team, I could feel it in my own individual performances.
With the summer drifting away we worked really hard back in Crystal Palace. Not only working on our tactics on the handball court but on our fitness and strength too.
As a team we don't have height on our side so we must work hard on becoming as strong and as fit as humanly possible. Especially with Russia in our group, they are one of the strongest teams in the world with plenty of Gold medals in the cabinet.
Once the summer was out, Russia & Montenegro were our main focus as we were up against them next.
Along came October. Our first match of the European Championship qualification was against Montenegro in Montenegro. A tough affair.
Most of their squad like us, are centralised but as a club team. A club team that competes in the Champions League.
We knew it would be hard work and it was. We were poor, not our best and lost out. However the best was to come against the better team, Russia.
We met Russia on home soil in Crystal Palace. Everything was against us. They were taller than us, stronger than us, more experienced than us and they were World Champions. But, to be honest you could hardly tell the difference on the court.
I could feel the disappointment in myself and in my teammates from the game in Montenegro, we had to go all out and give everything we had to make up for our mistakes and a poor performance during the week.
We lost to Russia by eight goals. The anger in the Russian coach said it all. He expected a bigger result for his strong Russian side and he didn't get it. We had played an amazing match! In the handball world Great Britain losing by 8 to handball giants Russia was a fantastic result and something that brought a lot of attention to us.
And rightly so, we hit them hard in defence so much so that they only scored 24 goals in 30 minutes! They have scored more against the likes of leading nations Norway, France and Denmark. We were ecstatic.
This is the kind of improvement I talked about earlier. We kept them within our reach as a team, it was a great team performance and spirit that helped us to that fantastic result. We defended together helping each other out all over the court.
The centralised programme was really working for us as we kept coming up with the goods.
Once again we got our heads down and continued to build on our good performance. November lead us to Denmark for some more handball action as we met some top Danish club teams.
These games were important to us as being in London there is not much strong competition around for us like you would receive week in week out if you were in a professional club team set up. Or any kind of European club outside of the UK. We had to make the most of them.
It was another great camp for us and I could feel the improvement in myself feeling even more fitter and stronger. I feel I had one of my best performances to date out there against Aalborg; a team I had already played against with my last Danish club.
I had also performed well against the other teams, the Aalborg match just really sticks out in my mind. I felt at the top of my game. It was great to be there and to get a quick reminder of how it feels to play in Denmark again as I plan to go back there once the Olympics are over.
The camp in Denmark was great preparation with the London Prepares Test Event just around the corner. The Test Event was a tournament designed to test out the new Handball Arena at the Olympic Park. It was amazing, the Olympic Park is really starting to take shape and the Handball Arena is just breath taking.
The tournament ran over four days with six teams in two groups. Our group consisted of Angola and Austria, the other; Poland, Slovakia and China. We opened the tournament with Angola, our first match in the Olympic Arena. It couldn't have gone any better!
We won the match by two goals (22-20). We had beaten the African Champions on our new home ground. It couldn't be any better. The atmosphere was fantastic and so was the match. We performed just like we had against Russia with a strong defence and great team spirit.
I had also continued my good run and had a good game myself. We were on a high, unbeaten in the Handball Arena.
The following day we faced Austria, a team we have played many times before so we knew them well, but they also knew us. Again another poor performance after a good one. This seemed to be a regular occurrence, something we continued to do.
We were inconsistent, this could be due a number of things such as inexperience. We lost the match and were extremely disappointed as you could say we had won the harder match yet lost the easier one.
This meant that we had to play for fifth and sixth place against Slovakia a team we had unexpectedly beaten the year before. We have proved we can do it, we had already beaten Slovakia, had a great result against Russia and beaten the African champions!
Yet, again we didn't, we didn't perform at our very best like we had done against Angola but this is all part of the process. We continue to learn from our mistakes and are punished when we are not at our absolute best.
All in all, despite a few disappointing results from us the tournament was unbelievable. I really got a taste of how the Olympics this summer will be. I can only imagine how amazing it will be as it can only be better than the Test Event.
But I also learnt a few lessons, the Olympics will be tough and we cannot afford to be inconsistent at the games, we have to be at our best in all matches something that we are continuing to improve on now.
The World Championships took place in Brazil shortly after the Test Event. Angola participated and had an amazing tournament finishing eighth overall. Finishing above the likes of Germany, Korea, Sweden and Montenegro. This really puts into perspective how fantastic our victory was against them. We beat number eight in the world and that will never change.
I personally felt pleased with my own performances in all three matches. I was improving in defence and felt much more confident there as I would consider defence a weakness of mine. I also top scored for the team over the tournament.
The good run didn't last long as I suffered an injury to my left foot two weeks after the Test Event. I haven't played since but I am on the road to recovery after a long rehabilitation phase. I will be back to full strength at the beginning of March just in time for our next leg in the European Championship qualification against Poland in Loughborough University. It's really frustrating to be injured for any length of time but it's all part of the sport and I hope to continue my good run once this is over.
2011 has been a tremendous year for myself and the Great Britain team, we have gained some fantastic results against top nations as a result of our hard work within the centralised programme. The results we have gained are proof that we are on the right tracks as we prepare for the Olympic Games this summer.
It's finally 2012 and with just lest than six months to go we definitely have Olympic fever. The Olympics surround us and are in my thoughts constantly. It's something I have dreamed of for so long and it's only getting closer and closer. The next six months are going to be the best of this long journey so far and I cannot wait to see what they bring!
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