THE road to an Olympic Games is a long and difficult one for many athletes.
Form, injury, illness or a sudden loss of confidence can all affect the final decision of whether you’ll be competing in the greatest show on earth or watching it from the comfort of your living room.
Funding, too, can be a problem. To compete at the highest level you must dedicate yourself entirely to your sport. No other distractions can get in your way.
So when monies are cut to your sport’s programme it can seem like the end of a dream.
That’s what happened to the British women’s volleyball team in 2009 when UK Sport decided to end its funding of the team.
They were left with two choices. Pack in or fight to find a backer that could help support the plans of competing in London. Fight they did, and their backer turned out to be the city of Sheffield.
Wayne Coyle, director of Podium Projects UK Ltd, was the man behind pulling the plan together. Coyle’s knowledge of sport and sports partners in Sheffield is unrivalled. He said he knew there would be an appetite for helping the team.
“I was asked by British women’s coach Audrey Cooper to pull together a partnership that would help provided necessary services. I have worked with British Volleyball a number of years and knew if we could get the right people together then the women’s squad would begin to prosper.
“Once the situation was explained to potential partners they were quick to see the opportunities of being involved with an Olympic team.
“No one partner is more important than another. Every company or organisation that has come on board has played their part in sending the women’s squad to London in the best possible shape.”
An Olympic squad needs a lot of back up. From venue hire for training and matches to accommodation and physio support to keep the players fit and healthy.
It’s even the little things like transport around the city that become major problems if not taken care of. Coyle, the coaching staff and the players all had a role in attracting partners to the sport.
Now with the Games’ Opening Ceremony just 10 days away head coach Audrey Cooper says volleyball is now synonymous with Sheffield: “This is the home of British Volleyball, it is the home of the Great Britain women’s team. We have amazing support.
“All the partners over the years, as well as this particular year, have consistently come up trumps and helped us. It has certainly made a big difference to us in preparation. This is what we think is the home of British volleyball.
“We have bridged the (funding) gap to an extent with the partners who have come on board. From the accommodation at the fire station to the hoteliers helping us out. DFS, another local company, have given us funding towards having competition.
“The girls have full sport science advice from Sheffield Hallam University, they are amazing practitioners there. We haven’t settled for second best. We have got the best practitioners. “Part of my strategy has been to make sure the girls can focus just on their volleyball and all the things that go around that.
“We now go into a new cycle for funding so I’m going to have to see the outcome of that. But Sheffield has been home from home for me.
Captain of the squad Lynne Beattie said: “This has been our home from home for us for the past five years while we’ve been preparing for the Olympics. We joined forces in 2007 and came straight here.
“The support we have had has been absolutely phenomenal. When you go away for the winter (to play for European clubs) and then come back in the summer it feels like you’re at home.
“The funding decision was devastating but it has brought us together as a team. I think we are one of the very few teams that have that team spirit. It makes us special – we can be a surprise package in London.”
While the players have become adopted Sheffielders, Rachel Laybourne is born and bred in the city. A student at Meadowhead and All Saints school, the 30-year-old says the adversity of having an unconventional route to the Olympics could help the team at difficult situations: “I believe that it means more to the players on this team than it will to those who have been to an Olympics two or three times or have experienced the world stage more often.
“To get there and start delivering on our aspirations we’ll be able to turn to each other and say we deserve to be here and have overcome so much.”
Thanks to the support of the city’s businesses and people, Laybourne and her team-mates will have the chance to test themselves against the best.
Sheffield businesses provided everything the women's team would need for their preparations before the Olympic Games
Sheffield Hallam Univerity
South Yorkshire Fire Service
Sheffield City Council
Sheffield International Venues
Sheffield Hospitality Association plus Jurys In
All Saints School
Wildes Group (Hairdressers)
Podium Projects UK Ltd
Burnt Tree Vehicle Hire
Sheffield Chamber of Commerce
Adopt an Olympian