Sacrifices but no medals for athletes' families

LONDON (Reuters) - They put in years of hard work and sacrifice even though they will not be the ones winning Olympic medals.

Russia's Maria Sharapova (L) hugs her father Yuri Sharapov after her win over Belgium's Justine Henin-Hardenne in the women's final match at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, in this September 9, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Mike Segar/Files

The families of athletes heading to the Beijing Games can only hope that years of scheduling meals, holidays and finances around their loved ones’ sporting lives will be made worthwhile by Olympic success.

British 14-year-old diving prodigy Tom Daley relies on his parents to ferry him to training and support him at competitions around the world.

“Tom has a mile walk from school. I take him so he’s not too tired,” his father Robert told Reuters by telephone.

“I go as a spectator to all of his competitions. I always have done from when he first started. I didn’t want to be one of those parents who just dropped their kids off to a waiting bus or a mini-bus. I always made my own way there and if it’s in this country the whole family come.”

Some parents go to more extreme lengths to ensure their child makes the transition from good to elite.

When tennis facilities in Russia were not up to scratch, Maria Sharapova’s parents decided she needed to train abroad if she was to forge a career in the sport.

Seven-year-old Sharapova and her father went to a tennis camp in Florida while her mother remained in Russia, separated from them for more than a year while she waited for a visa.

Now that Sharapova is the world number one with three grand slam titles to her name and a first shot at an Olympic medal in August, her family must think the hard times have paid off.


Romance takes a firm second place for many athletes, with British cyclist Victoria Pendleton saying that there is simply not enough time to fit that in alongside training and racing.

“The guy I am seeing comes second on my list and he knows that,” Pendleton, who won two gold medals at March’s track cycling world championships to boost her claims for a place on Britain’s Olympic team, told British newspaper the Daily Mail.

“I spend a lot of time with him when I can, but it’s not like I can commit to a relationship -- I am too busy and I go away for nine months a year.

“I’ve got other priorities in my life that far exceed me needing Mr Right. The lifetime in this sport is very short and we have few opportunities to make the most of it.”

Others try to involve their partners as much as possible, appointing them as their coaches or managers.

World marathon record holder Paula Radcliffe, whose Olympic hopes could be threatened by a stress fracture of her left femur, is trained by her husband Gary Lough and has often said she would not have achieved what she has without him.


When athletes become parents, juggling a demanding several-hours-a-day training regime with a hectic nappy-changing and feeding schedule can get complicated.

Even more so when you have just three months to go from giving birth to competing at an Olympics, as U.S. soccer player Tina Ellertson is hoping to do.

The 26-year-old defender, a member of the team that reached the semi-finals at last year’s World Cup, gave birth to her second daughter Mya on May 4 and just five days later resumed her focus on trying to win a place in the Olympic team.

“I started to do light workouts on Friday, May 9. And I mean light. I am just doing some walking and jogging. But the Games are coming up soon, so I have to start training, if I want to make the Olympic team,” she wrote on her blog (

American softball player Stacey Nuveman, aiming for a third Olympic gold medal after successes in 2000 and 2004, said the arrival of her son Chase last year had made things harder but also more satisfying.

“It’s definitely a challenge, but in the meantime it’s really a blessing I’m able to continue what I do and what I love to do even though I have a nearly one-year-old with me 24/7,” she told reporters on a conference call.

“You don’t understand, I think, what commitment is until when you have children you do, it really puts it into perspective.”

Additional reporting by John Mehaffey; Editing by Clare Fallon