It's a family affair for most elite athletes

Mon Aug 6, 2012 12:22pm EDT
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By Belinda Goldsmith

LONDON (Reuters) - When British judo champion Gemma Gibbons won a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics, she looked to the heavens and mouthed "I love you mum," a teary tribute to her mother who died eight years ago.

Bert le Clos, father of South African swimmer Chad who beat Michael Phelps in the 200 meter butterfly, became an Internet sensation when he cried over "his beautiful boy," tugging his shirt over his stomach as he realized he was on live television.

An online video of U.S. gymnast Aly Raisman's parents squirming in their seats at the London Games as they mirrored her moves on the bars also went viral.

While the spotlight is on the athletes at Olympics, in the wings is often a family that is as committed and dedicated to the sport as the athletes, making huge financial and lifestyle sacrifices to let their sons and daughters chase their dreams.

Kathy Vollmer, mother of U.S. swimmer Dana who won three golds in London, used to spend four hours a day driving her daughter to swimming practice.

Realizing they were eating and doing homework in the car, she took the decision to home school her daughter.

"When Dana didn't qualify for the Beijing Olympics it was so disappointing but we all learnt from every disappointment and every injury," Vollmer told Reuters at the P&G House, a centre set up in London for athletes' families.

"Now it has paid off. It seems there was a plan there."   Continued...