By Tom Pilcher
LONDON (Reuters) - Danish women's handball team captain Karin Mortensen has a simple philosophy to rally her troops for the London Olympics. Every match for the Danes, as far as Mortensen is concerned, is a final.
Having failed to qualify for Beijing four years ago following three consecutive gold medals, the Danes have it all to prove again in an incredibly tough Group B.
They have been drawn alongside Olympic, world and European champions Norway, Beijing bronze medalists South Korea, France, Spain and Sweden, a real test even for twice-gold medalist Mortensen.
"We're in a very very difficult group so every time we go to the court is a final. We have to be ready from day one," the 34-year-old goalkeeper told Reuters on Friday.
"We just want to be in the medals this time. Bronze, silver, whatever, fantastic," she added, Denmark having finished fourth at the 2011 world championship and just outside the medals at Euro 2010.
"If we play at our top level every time then we can go a long, long way, but the difference from top to bottom is a lot right now.
"We're not very consistent when we play. It's like 50-50 every time we go to the court, but that's the fun part."
Denmark first meet neighbors Sweden on Saturday at 1515 GMT, a match Mortensen says is vital for her inexperienced team's chances.
"I hope we start well because self-confidence is very important."
Another stiff test will be against prolific Olympians South Korea, competitors Mortensen knows very well.
TRAIN, TRAIN, TRAIN
South Korea's women have won medals at six of the seven Olympics they have contested. Mortensen explained why.
"I've been playing with two of the Koreans back at home and they told me they train exceptionally hard towards the Olympics every time.
"They get together maybe two or three months before the Games and just train, train, train. We can't do this with our schedules.
"We have tournaments back home, the Champions League. It's like a puzzle. If you want to be as good as you can be you need more training sessions."
Not only do they train harder, Koreans are also offered financial incentives to do well.
"If they get a gold medal they get a full pension for their whole life, silver medal is half a pension," Mortensen said.
While Mortensen is clearly passionate about a sport she has been playing since the age of five, earning financial rewards for winning back-to-back golds in Sydney and Athens, the memories and photos are what keep her motivated.
"When you go to European and world championships, you forget how unique Olympics are. I've seen some of the pictures from Athens to remind me what I'm training for. I've taken out my medals to remind me too."
As the 'mother' of the team Mortensen has had to field a host of questions about what to expect in London.
"Some of the girls have asked me 'What is the Olympics?'. I said I don't know what to expect as each Games is different, but I said there are lots of things you have to absorb all the time.
"I hope I've prepared them a little bit," she said as her team mates laughed and joked in a media room on the Olympic Park.
(Editing by Justin Palmer)