London 2012: Getting to the Games with help from family

By Jenny Minard
BBC 2012

  • Published
Media caption,
Tearful gymnasts' Olympic dream ends

No man is an island, or so the saying goes. And it is certainly true in the world of sport.

While top athletes are undoubtedly talented, they surround themselves with supporters to reach their goals.

From Olympic gold medallists to young hopefuls, one theme emerges - the importance of family.

"Families are absolutely crucial in supporting the development of sporting potential," said Ben Oakley, head of sport and fitness, The Open University.

"As well as providing emotional support they also contribute financial and time resources, without which it is very difficult to reach the top in some sports."

Here, the families of two athletes - a gymnast hoping to attend her first Olympic Games this summer and an experienced Olympian - tell the BBC how they support their loved ones.

Rising Star: Lynne Hutchison

Brian Hutchison is the father of Olympic hopeful and rhythmic gymnast Lynne Hutchison.

Image caption,
Young rhythmic gymnast Lynne Hutchison gets support from her family

Like many gymnasts Lynne took an interest in the sport from an early age but Mr Hutchison said he had no idea she would ever compete internationally.

"It just gradually built up and she was doing better and better in competitions. From the age of 12 she was going to national squad training."

That is when the youngster met gymnastics coach Sarah Moon who invited her to join a club in Bath.

She is now part of the British team, who hit the headlines in January after the team were told they had not qualified for London 2012 after the second day of their three-day test event.

They believed their score from the final day would count in their qualification bid and argued the qualifying criteria had not been made clear to them.

An independent arbitrator ruled in their favour following a hearing in London and they will now take part in the Games.

Games time

Now working towards Olympic selection, the girls train full-time at the University of Bath and Ms Hutchison has taken a year off from studying.

"You didn't really think about the Olympics," her father said. "Even when we won the bid in London, it still didn't register.

"Right up until January, we didn't dare hope."

Athletes use a number of sources to get funding to go to the Olympics. This includes sponsorship and grants from organisations such as UK Sport, as well as getting help from friends and family.

The rhythmic gymnasts are self funded and raise money through events such as school performances and bag-packing in supermarkets.

Mr Hutchison said costs have crept up through the years and that he knew of one parent who had spent £18,000 so far.

"If you knew at the beginning how much it's going to cost you would never do it," he said.

"They went to a competition in Italy and it cost £800 to participate - you also pay for judges' and coaches' costs. They are going to Bulgaria and that's £700. They get to represent GB but we end up paying for it all."

Some athletes get financial backing from UK Sport - which has allocated £264m for the Games. That money is split between all Olympic sports and is subject to certain criteria.

The governing body for each sport decides where the money will go. For London 2012, British Gymnastics was allocated over £10m but did not fund the rhythmic gymnasts - instead focusing on artistic and trampoline sports."

"We've put money on credit cards and remortgaged our house, not just for gymnastics, but that's part of it," Mr Hutchison said.

"A good quality leotard costs £300 and then there will be extra décor," said Mr Hutchinson. "It's quite a bit of money."

Huge benefits

Not only is there the costs to think about when sending a relative to the Olympics, but there is also an emotional investment.

Mr Hutchison said his daughter was devastated after the test event.

"It was very stressful, I know when they were told they were not going I've never heard her so distraught."

But the IT worker said that despite the hurdles, if his daughter is selected for Team GB, going to the Olympics will be worth it.

"They are not just going to the Olympics. They are dedicating themselves, they are learning that discipline and learning to work together with other people and compete in competitions.

"There are huge benefits you can't put a price on. It's worth it but it's taken a lot of money."

Experienced Olympian: William Fox-Pitt

It is not just young starter athletes who need support - established Olympians also have a strong team around them to get them to the next Games.

World number one equestrian rider William Fox-Pitt has competed in three Olympic Games, winning a team silver medal in 2004 and team bronze four years later, and looks set to make it to London 2012 after selection which will take place in June.

The 43-year-old is married to Channel 4 racing presenter Alice Plunkett and together they own a horse training centre.

There are 28 horses at the stables and eight staff who work in the team - as well as Ms Plunkett, who plays a supporting role.

Image caption,
Equestrian rider William Fox-Pitt has competed in three Olympic Games

Ms Plunkett, who has been around horses her whole life, juggles her own work commitments with looking after their home in Dorset and their two children, six-year-old Oliver and five-year-old Thomas.

"It's about keeping a reality and getting him away from work and training sometimes - he will train from eight in the morning until seven at night, riding 12 horses a day," she said.

"For competitions it's really about making sure there is food in the lorry and everyone knowing where they are going."

Grand Slam

Mr Fox-Pitt recently won the Kentucky Three-Day event - taking him closer to the gaining the top prize in world eventing, the Grand Slam.

He triumphed at the Burghley Horse Trials last year and was due to compete in the Badminton Horse Trials this week until it was cancelled because of heavy rain.

Despite that, the horses still need to be looked after in the run-up to the Olympics and the couple have the business to run.

"There is a strict training regime. The horses have to be fed correctly, we have to monitor the legs and the exercise programme and make sure it's exactly as William wants.

"But he's very good at trusting the team. He works hard at that."

Way of life

The couple met when Alice was 14 and William was 18. They started a relationship 14 years later and have been married for eight years.

They both shared a love for horses but Alice said that is not what keeps them together.

"Ultimately I didn't marry him because I wanted to be involved with the yard. We would get on really well whatever.

"I enjoy supporting him and being part of a great team. Sometimes I wish we had a bit more of a boundary between work and private life but we have a way of life, we don't really have a job."

Ms Plunkett said she speaks to her husband four or five times a day when he is away, and work can dominate their home life.

"We watch videos of horses competing that weekend or horses that are interested in joining the team. We're always thinking and talking about it.

"Of course you have the moments where you want to leave the work at the office and he gets back and the children have gone to bed.

Image caption,
William and Alice have been married for eight years

"But I know a lot of people whose husbands leave at four AM to go to work in the City and husbands who go to work in Afghanistan.

"It's a strain on family life because it's very intense. Competition can be back-to-back - with eight weeks away and one day at home."

Alice said they do manage to have family holidays - usually during the season's downtime between October and March.

But she makes sure she keeps her own identity too.

"It is really important to keep your own thing going and have interests in other things," she said.

"I'm not his coach, I'm not his manager or sponsorship agent - I love helping in those areas - but I think it's dangerous territory if the wife becomes manager before being a wife."

London 2012

Before they take a family break this year, there is the small matter of the Olympics. Despite it being Mr Fox-Pitt's potential fourth Games, Ms Plunkett said they are not being complacent.

"There is a lot still to achieve and by no means are we feeling dab hand at this.

"Once it gets to the Olympics, the team changes a lot and all of us very much take a step back.

"As a wife it's interesting - you have to take a step back because you're not accredited but that's totally fine.

"It will be a huge privilege to be part of the London Games.

"Things are good, the horses look good, although he has some great things on his CV - the one thing which is missing is team gold and the individual medal.

"We hope that all the work pays off for everyone and that he gets to start. Then it's over to him.

"We can only dream of seeing Team GB on the podium - that would be incredible."

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