Sotherton part of ageing legion

Athens medallist Kelly Sotherton was effectively told she does not have the potential to win an Olympic medal in 2012 this week when she was dropped from “podium” funding by UK Athletics but would she even have been trying had the Games not been in London?

Whether or not she makes it, there will be a legion of athletes who would naturally have retired over the last few years, were London not luring them further.

Sotherton, 34, took bronze at the 2004 Olympics and repeated that at the World Championships in Osaka in ’07 but has been hit by injuries since and switched to running the 400m in an attempt to reach London as part of the relay squad.

She remains defiant, her target still an appearance in the Olympic stadium but UKA head coach Charles van Commenee made clear that podium funding is for those expected to finish in the top eight of their event.

Other members of the legion are likely to be more successful.

Rower Greg Searle and track cyclist Jason Queally – who will both be 42 by the time they take to their Olympic starting lines – have returned after time away, reinvigorated by new projects.

Great Britain’s hockey teams have both grown more successful during this Olympiad, in part because veterans like defender Richard Mantell, who would have been expected to step down after Beijing or the 2010 World Cup, have stuck around.

Victoria Pendleton, 30, will be expecting to win gold in at least one of the three track cycling events now open to her, despite admitting that her hunger is not as strong as it was before Beijing in 2008.

Katherine Grainger is driven by more than location, aiming to follow three successive rowing silvers with a gold to end her career at 36 but two other Olympic silver-winning rowers from Beijing – Annabel Vernon and Richard Egington – have flirted with retirement, unsure whether the goal of gold in London is worth the work required to get to another Olympics.

Motivation is complicated and highly personal, including personal goals, the expectations and hopes of family and friends and – especially for London 2012 – financial opportunities that could make the difference between comfort and the difficult career suffered by many who have missed out on qualifications and experience to pursue sporting success.

Perhaps a medal – or just the chance to compete in front of a home crowd – will be reward in itself but I wonder whether some of this group will greet success at 2012 with relief rather than celebration.

UPDATE 15/11/2011 1115 GMT: Sotherton’s interview with Donald McRae in today’s Guardian is a cracking read but, at the end of it, I’m still not sure whether her confidence is an indication of at she can still achieve or whether she is deluding herself with talk of a top-five finish at London 2012, just a year after being told she would not compete in heptathlon again.

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