Following On From Where Juniors & Seniors Dared To TreadIt has been a sensational opening weekend for the TeamGB Junior & Senior Racketlon players, with a staggering 11 Gold medals won, to leave us top of the medal table leading into the open age group event. In particular there was complete domination in the U16s events, with GB 1-2’s in the singles, doubles and teams events.
A beautiful looking medal table for TeamGB after the Junior & Senior Events
However, after a day for everyone to catch their breath and the venues to switch round, it is time for the open age group events. Doubles will start us off on Wednesday, with Singles played through the Friday to Sunday, but here we will concentrate on the affairs of Thursday, the team events. There are big changes for the 2017 European Racketlon Team Championships. With 13 nations fielding 24 teams across a new structure of three divisions of 8 teams: the Championship, Division 1 and Division 2 structure will include promotion and relegation play offs meaning there are no dead rubbers in this team event and the format also guarantees all sides a massive 5 matches. What does this mean for each of the GB Teams? Well here is our preview to guide you through the event, GB team by GB team! For an overview to the whole structure of the event see the preview on Racketlon.net.
Great Britain 1 – Championship
Luke Barnes, Hannah Boden, Dan Busby, Barbara Capper, Leon Griffiths, Ray Jordan & Duncan Stahl
Each division of 8 will be split into two groups of four teams before play offs decide the final placing. GB1 have been drawn in Group B for the Championship where they will face Finland 1, Sweden 1 and Switzerland 1 in the opening group games. While there are no easy matches at this level [any other clichés to use James? – Ed], with group A containing Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark and Germany, GB1 are most certainly not in the designated “Group of Death” [Ah, there are, glad to read it – Ed]. The first aim for GB1 is to finish in the top 2 and the chance to fight for the medals in the Championship Play Offs, before hopefully a Gold Medal match after that. GB1 have never won a medal in the Elite draw (equivalent to the Championship) and 2017 represents a great chance to put that monkey firmly to bed.
Great Britain 2 – Division 1
Jack Bishop, Will Coley, Jordan Dainty, Alex Du Noyer, Mark Harris & Lauren Whiteman
Drawn in Group B of Division 1, GB2 face matches against Austria 2, France and Sweden 2. GB2, as runners up in the 2015 European Championships Amateur Division (the precursor of Division 1) and indeed the reigning World
Champions in that group last year in Copenhagen, will be looking to once again stamp their authority on the Division 1. Sadly, GB2 cannot be promoted to the Championship (see the FIR explainer), however, there is still the chance for GB2 to win the Division 1 and stake their claim as the very best of the rest.
Great Britain 3 – Division 1
David Bennett, Johnny Bispham, Luke Griffiths, Ed Harvey & Jo Shelley
Despite avoiding compatriots GB2 in the opening group phase of their Division 1 campaign, GB3 will instead face very stiff competition from Belgium, Germany 2 and Switzerland 2. There is no were to hide in this group and it will be exceedingly tough the GB3 team. Their main focus will be on trying to minimise the risk of relegation from Division 1, with a focus on claiming third place in the group and the easier relegation play off. In their favour is the form of doubles & teams U16s dynamic duo, David Bennett and Luke Griffiths, who added European titles to their World Titles collection, Luke then won the battle of the Brits to take home U16s singles Gold with David claiming Silver. These boys are on a hot streak, hopefully it can be channelled through the rest of GB3!
Great Britain 4 – Division 2
Shirley Barre, Jo Bennett Joel Durston, James Langworthy, Simon Lau, James Pope & Jon Spinks
The GB4 side may have been the shock package of the 2016 World Championships, but they are forced into the new Division 2 by rules which prevent more than 2 teams from any one nation being in Division 1, a rule which also means that they cannot be promoted either. GB4’s main aim is to try and finish in the top 3 in the Division, giving out a few bloody noses to the newcomer nations and teams along the way. To do this they will first have to deal with the challenge posed by Austria 3, Hungary and Switzerland 3. Should they achieve this finish in one of the top two spots in their group, there is every chance of securing a top 3 place in the Division, which would be an excellent reward for the team.
Aside from GB1 and their obvious medal potential, this new format is on first glace particularly harsh on the GB sides as it perhaps dents their scope for impact. I would not be lying if I have not wondered in the recent days if there was much point in GB2-4 even playing. However, there are two reasons that this initial feeling is way wide of the mark. Firstly, pulling on the GB vest is always a privilege and an honour, one that many of us never dreamed we would achieve. Secondly, this is a new format for National Team Championships, designed to ensure that as many countries as possible can and do enter their national sides. It has worked in that respect with new sides in the open age team event, such as Slovenia. And, as with any new format, the FIR has to learn to walk before it can run. Currently there are limitations on who can play in which division, but the crucial role for the GB teams here, is that we have a wonderful chance to show that countries with great strength in depth should be able to compete higher. If GB2 can continue their great form of recent years they will be showing that they are better than other nation’s first teams and are more deserving of that Championship place. Similarly, if GB4 can deliver a few bloody noses and mix it at the top of Division 2, then they will be putting down a marker to the FIR to remove the maximum 2 teams per nation per division rule. Promotion and relegation should, I believe, act as both a carrot and a stick, a carrot to all sides, first or fourth team, to improve and as a stick, to remind teams they are not guaranteed anything, that they must keep pushing hard to develop their players. Finally, we have yet another opportunity to show the strength in depth of UK Racketlon and I have no doubt that every player pulling on those new red shirts will be giving it their all on every point to try and ram home that position!