London fans will give us a lift! Water polo captain Leighton relishing home rule
17:36 GMT, 24 April 2012
Great Britain water polo captain Fran Leighton expects her team to thrive in the partisan atmosphere of a home Olympic Games.
The team will get their first taste of the Water Polo Arena next week at the test event, where they will compete against Hungary, Australia and the United States, and sizeable crowds are expected.
For the Games themselves, the 5,000-capacity venue will be packed out as Britain's women compete at the Olympics for the first time, while there has not been a British men's team since the 1956 Games.
Home rule: The Water Polo Arena (bottom right) will be where Team GB hope to capture gold
There will certainly be nerves but, after seeing how her team handled a big crowd at the European Championships in Holland in January, Leighton has no doubt they can use it to their advantage.
It was the first time Britain had qualified for the tournament since 1997, and they pushed Hungary, Russia and the hosts before beating Germany in their final game.
Leighton said: 'To enter the Europeans after 15 years was fantastic, and it was our stepping stone preparation for the Olympics. To finish seventh was brilliant, we played some really tough games.
'It was exciting to be in that environment, on the big stage. We loved the atmosphere. I think there were about 2,000 people so when we played the Dutch that was fab. Even though it wasn't for us, it was still a great place to play.
'We can't wait to bring that to London and hopefully all our fans and all the British people will get behind us.
'All the girls really embraced the occasion in Holland. We could have been a bit nervous about playing in a really big stadium but it was fantastic how we dealt with it and hopefully it'll be the same in London.'
Final preparations: The US team will be hoping to go one better than the silver they won in Beijing four years ago
The team will head down to London at the start of next week and will train in the pool before the competition begins next Thursday.
'We're all so excited about seeing the venue and going in the pool,” said Leighton.
'There's all the talk about it but when we set foot off the bus at the Olympic Park it'll start to feel like it is real. We've seen all the pictures and we just can't wait to play and hopefully compete well at the test event.'
Water polo is very much a minority sport in Britain but Leighton is confident it will prove a hit at the Games, which she hopes will help grow the player base in Britain.
The 30-year-old, who comes from a big water polo family, said: 'The crowd will see a really tough, fast-paced sport. I think people don't realise you can't stand up, you end up treading water for more than an hour.
'It's contact all the time. Whenever you've got the ball somebody can push you under the water. It's about having the face of an angel above the water and then what the referee can't see under the water, there's always grabbing and tugging.
'We hope everyone does enjoy it and they'll be ringing their local pool asking, “When can I play water polo”
'If we get an extra 100 people in the country playing water polo, then there's some legacy from it. And hopefully in Rio (venue for the 2016 Olympics) and in future Games British water polo will be there.'
The European Championships showed Britain could live with the very best and, with the likes of Holland and world champions Greece not qualifying for London, it is a very open field.
The hosts will not be among the favourites for a medal, but Leighton certainly does not believe that is beyond the realms of possibility.
She added: 'At the test event we find out the draw, and I think that will really decide where we can go. It's going to be a really strong, tough competition, but you never know. If we have the best two weeks of our life, anything's possible.'