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Southern Design Sydney Uni Flames stars Belinda Snell and Alicia Poto have been named in a 24-women training squad working towards selection in the Australian Opals team to contest the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Snell will be pushing for a third Olympic campaign, having won silver medals at the 2004 and 2008 Games and a gold medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

Poto won a silver medal with the Opals at the 2004 Olympics to go along with a silver medal from the Junior World Championships in 1997. She also has a WNBL title with the Flames from 1997.

Headlined by Lauren Jackson and Penny Taylor, as well as seasoned campaigners in Snell, Poto, Suzy Batkovic and Kristi Harrower, and rising stars Liz Cambage, Jenna O’Hea and Abby Bishop, the 2012 Olympic train-on squad features a great mix of talent, athleticism, experience and youth.

Head coach Carrie Graf said although a core group of star players are likely to make up much of the London Olympic team, there are a number of spots available to members of the squad who can offer something unique to a team looking for success. It was this that aided selectors in bringing the talent pool down to the current group of 24.

“We can’t select 30 and we have to get down to the nitty gritty,” said Graf. “There are a core group of players who are going to clearly be in that Olympic team and then there are going to be a few spots open for players to battle it out and for us to see what is going to be the best fit for the team,” she said.

“There are some young athletes that weren’t selected that we feel are a part of the future, who have had very good WNBL seasons. But we’re getting to the pointy end of things now and it’s about the 2012 campaign and who can force their way into the group and who can help us in the process.”

The Opals London Olympic Games preparation schedule begins with a selection camp in March and then moves into the official pre-Olympic training camp which tips off in May at the AIS.

Coach Graf said that the March selection camp is a great opportunity for some of the emerging Opals players to show what they can do, while some of the more senior members of the group wrap up their European commitments.

“Six of the athletes are off-shore in Europe so they won’t be a part of that first selection camp, so it’s a really good opportunity for some of those other athletes to show their wares,” she said. “Who are the specialists who are potentially going to fill one or two of three spots on that Olympic team? That’s what we’re looking for.”

The Opals have claimed silver at the past three Olympic Games as well as World Championship gold in 2006. But after a fifth-place finish at the 2010 World Championship, the group is well aware of the strength of competition that awaits them in London, and the preparation that needs to take place if they are to achieve success at this year’s Olympic Games.

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