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Folkard aims to hit bull's eye in Beijing medal quest; OLYMPIC GAMES: ARCHERY.

Byline: By Colin Stoner

There's certainly no glamour in spending winter day after winter day standing in a farmer's field in Kidderminster.

Naomi Folkard, however, hopes the glory will come in the heat of Beijing next week.

Leamington-born archer Folkard and team-mates Alison Williamson and Charlotte Burgess are realistic medal contenders in the women's team event while 24-year-old Folkard could challenge in the individual competition to follow Williamson, a 2004 bronze medalist, on to the podium.

The clunk of heavy metal would bring music to the ears of the former Birmingham University music graduate who will be competing in her second Olympics.

She finished a highly-creditable 11th in Athens but she admits she is a wiser, fitter and stronger athlete four years down a long and winding road.

If commitment is the criteria, Folkard has already hit the bull's eye.

Now living in Kidderminster with her boyfriend, she trains full-time, using an old poultry farm in Harvington for shooting practice. Then there is the more sophisticated help available at Birmingham High Performance Athletics Centre at the Alexander Stadium where she works on her fitness and at Lilleshall Sports Centre.

The British No 1 said: "During the winter when it's absolutely freezing cold and I'm shooting arrow after arrow, it's really hard work. But it was the thought of going to the Olympics that kept me going.

"It's hard work. I'm shooting 200-300 arrows every day and I'm doing weights three times a week and running. It's a question of finding the balance between technique and being prepared physically."

Folkard can also call on greater experience - and a winning habit. Team GB have won gold twice in World Cup events in the past five months, having bronze in last year's World Championships, while Folkard took silver in the European Championships.

"Athens was a wonderful experience," she said. "It was overwhelming at first but you have to learn to cope with the distractions. You have to learn to stay focused.

"I've got a lot more experience behind me now. I used to get nervous before matches but now I'm a lot more in control. You learn to go through a mental routine, to settle and create a positive vibe. It's all about finding that consistency."

Folkard admits her selection in Athens as the youngest member of the team had been a nerve-wracking affair when she won a shootoff but she heads to Beijing as the British No 1, having taken first place in the three-leg qualification process. She is ranked world No 9 while Team GB are ranked second behind favourites Korea.

"I'm excited about the Games," Folkard said. "But I'm not putting pressure on myself. I just want to shoot as well as I can. As long as I can keep my form I will be happy.

"In archery, you can only look after your own performance. You shoot against an opponent in a head-to-head and if they shoot better you can't do anything about it. You need that little bit of luck as well.

Folkard, though, has more strings to her bow. A highly-accomplished musician on the piano and violin who has played at Symphony Hall, she intends to teach when she finally lays down her arrows.

"Music was going to be the priority when I was young but then archery took over," said Folkard, who started the sport when aged five.

"If I was doing music, I would be with the violinists at the back of the orchestra. Now I'm in the top ten in the world and in the Olympics for the second time."

Folkard's family and friends will be relying on television and the internet to keep up to date with her progress in the archery competition which starts on Saturday.

"Unfortunately no-one is coming out to Beijing," she said. "It's so expensive - it would cost pounds 1,000 per week each. They came out to Athens and hopefully they will be able to come to London 2012."

Selection for London would be Folkard's third Games but she still has some catching up to do on team-mate Williamson. Beijing is her fifth Olympics and Folkard says her fellow Midlander is an undoubted talisman.

"She is an inspiration to everyone in the team," Folkard said. "She is the one we turn to when we have any questions.

"We train together once or twice a week and we're all really good friends."

During the winter when it's absolutely freezing... it was the thought of the going to the Olympics that kept me going

Naomi Folkard

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Midlander Naomi Folkard would love to hit the gold standard when the archery competition starts in Beijing
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Aug 7, 2008
Words:775
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