Height makes right: British Olympic officials seek tall people

LONDON -- Answering a nationwide appeal for tall people with athletic potential, more than 50 prospective Olympic athletes have been placed in British training programs for the 2012 London Games.

More than 3,800 people applied to be part of the "Sporting Giants" project. They were tested for their skills in four Olympic sports -- rowing, handball, beach volleyball and indoor volleyball.

Making the cut were 34 rowers, 11 handball players and seven volleyball players. They have been integrated into various British Olympic training squads.

"There are so many people out there who don't know how good they could be at sports they've probably not even thought about," UK Sport talent identification manager Chelsea Warr said Thursday. "This was a mild shake of the tree. We looked under a few rocks and look what we found."

Chris Gregory, a 17-year-old student who is 6-9, now is training with Britain's volleyball squad, having never played the sport before.

Stuart Campbell, 25, gave up his job as a personal trainer to join the British Handball Academy in Denmark.

"I had never even seen a handball court before Sporting Giants," Campbell said. "But we're not just here to make up the numbers -- we're here to win medals."

Frances Nicholls, 23, who had been working as a teacher in York, has now relocated to Henley, home of Britain's most famous rowing regatta, after being fast-tracked onto Britain's national rowing program.

"It's been an absolute whirlwind," Nicholls said.

Male candidates had to be taller than 6-3, while female candidates needed to be taller than 5-11.

However, six candidates who exaggerated their height on the initial application form were still tested and have since been placed in Britain's canoeing squad.

Five-time Olympic rowing champion Steve Redgrave said looking for potential medal-winners based on their physical attributes was a policy that had served Britain well before.

"I never thought I would row until my first coach came along and asked me to have a go," Redgrave said. "Years later I asked him 'Why did you pick me?'

"He said, 'Well, you had big hands and big feet."