Fencing: 2012 hopeful cuts honeymoon for Olympic bid

Four months on from her wedding and Chrystall Nicoll, Britain's top woman fencer, has still not managed a honeymoon.

It will not be happening for a while yet either. The 24-year-old from Wickford in Essex has another big day on her mind.

Nicoll's chance to bring Britain its first Olympic medal in the sport since 1964 may be 18 months away, but the countdown has already begun.

"The qualifying period is about to start and every international event will count towards my world ranking," she says.

Currently 25th, her target is top 12 to earn an automatic place in the Games and for the time being that takes precedence over getting away with husband James, an engineer with London Underground.

"Because the world championships were coming up when we got married I didn't really have the time for a honeymoon then.

"I'd also taken so much time off work that I couldn't afford any more.

"We have had a long weekend in Ireland, so that's something, but we are planning to go away after the European Championships in Sheffield in July.

"We don't know where yet, though. It will depend on the budget."

The Dorset-born athlete would love to be in full-time training, but to boost the finances needed to travel the circuit and attend some overseas training camps she works as a sales representative for Coca-Cola in London.

"I have Lottery funding, but it's less than it used to be as a result of the women's sabre team event being dropped from this Olympics.

"That decision came as a big shock to the system about a year ago and it wasn't what we were expecting.

"My world ranking has climbed since then, though, and I'm currently

waiting for the (UK Sport) review process to happen.

"I'm crossing my fingers that my performances last year will bode well and my funding will move up a level.

"People have asked me if there was a connection between knowing I had only the individual event to go for and suddenly getting some really good results. Maybe there is."

The world championships in Paris in November were a disappointment, however. After winning all her six preliminaries she missed out on a last 16 spot by a single point to a lower-ranked Korean fencer she had already beaten twice last year.

"Afterwards I was completely devastated, but I did manage to get everything together again for the team event and performed probably the best I've ever done.

"That was really good for me confidence-wise and I am aiming for a medal next year. Goal-setting is quite a personal thing and has to come from you - you've got to believe you can achieve it."

But Nicoll is certainly chasing her dream the hard way at the moment.

"I work from eight til three and there's also the travel time obviously, so I get up around 5.30am and do some of my physio and rehab work before I leave the house.

"When I get back I'll go to the gym if I have time and then there are my training sessions at Brentwood School on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings.

"By the time I've got home and had dinner those nights it's about 11.30pm.

"I used to work only 9 til 12, but I've moved up in my career and it's impossible to reduce my hours any more.

"If I take a step back it will affect me after 2012 and it's also quite difficult for the company to manage that.

"I'm in discussions with them about how we can reduce the hours, but until I know what funding there is it's difficult to make these decisions.

"I think one of the reasons I struggled so much at the start of last season was because I was really stressed out.

"It's not the type of job you can just forget outside the hours and when I went away I was thinking about how I'd left things, was anyone covering my work and were there going to be issues.

"It was an added stress that you don't really need when you are trying to focus on performing the best you can."

In June, though, Nicoll won back-to-back bronze medals in World Cup events and by the end of the year she had improved her world ranking by over 50 spots.

The thought of having family, friends and home crowd support at her first Games really excites her - and having been taken by the British Olympic Association to watch the action in Beijing three years ago she knows what effect that can have.

"It was invaluable just to see the village and the venues and the sheer scale of everything, but I also watched the men's sabre event which a Chinese athlete won.

"It was amazing because he was not a top-ranked fencer, no-one would have picked him as someone in medal contention, and he just fought absolutely amazingly and the crowd were 100% behind him.

"The volume was such that I'm not sure how the fencers heard the referee. That was definitely inspirational."

Nicoll admits she has been dreaming about performing at the Games herself "for years", adding: "For anybody in an Olympic sport a medal is the ultimate goal.

"And the dreams all have the same ending - I win."

Steve Morison.

Leeds United: Off-field issues impacted performances, reveals Morison