Great Britain has competed in every single Summer and Winter Olympic Games , and in Atlanta, 1996, came in 36th – the lowest ranking ever for the nation due to the increased number of countries competing, and winning just one gold medal and 15 medals in total which was the lowest amount of medals won since 1952. The single gold medal was won by Matthew Pinsent and Steve Redgrave (now Sir Steve Redgrave and 5 Time Olympic Gold Medalist) in rowing.
It was with these sad memories in mind that when Great Britain competed as the host nation for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, and won ( making London the first city to have won a third bid as host), the nation realized that if they wanted to compete well, and win, the athletes required better funding to help them reach that podium and their goals. With that funding in place, Great Britain acquired 29 Gold Medals, 65 in total – far more than their goal of 49 , and they finished third in points. The key word here is FUNDING. Without funding, no athlete can compete well, nor can be expected to compete well.
After the 2010 Whistler Olympics, A.J. Rosen, two-time Olympic Luger for Great Britain (his grandfather served in the Royal Navy in World War 11, and whilst he holds a dual citizenship, he is very proud of his British heritage), was informed that there was no funding forthcoming for the 2010 – 2011 season. This was after he had performed brilliantly after crashing during training in October 2009, just a few months before the 2010 Olympics, dislocating his hip, and tearing muscles, being informed that it would take a few years to repair properly, and despite all of that, he trained so hard that he not only qualified for the Olympics in December 2009, but he came in a credible 16th place finish at the Olympics. Due to lack of funding, A.J. was not able to train extensively on any of the tracks prior to the Olympics, and when given a chance to gain a few runs on the new Whistler track, jumped at it. An athlete usually goes down the track 2-3 times a day as it is involves every muscle, is very strenuous and is fighting G-forces. A.J. went down 7 times that fateful day, and due to fatigue, and when you are racing at over 86 miles an hour, he crashed on his seventh run.
Rather than realizing that the crash was due to lack of funding to begin with, the attitude after the Olympics was taken that since he had not performed better than the 16th place Turino Olympic finish (even though he was in the top 50%), he should not obtain funding at all….Despite the fact that he had raced to a 6th Place finish in a World Cup Race surpassing the previous British record of 13th place.
Simon Hart of the London Telegraph wrote a great blog in December 2010 on the subject, and A.J. thought at that time that was it for him in the sport of luge, and had even been contacted with regard to changing sports in Great Britain. Missing an entire season due to no funding, he was advised in the late summer of 2011 that the International Luge Federation would grant him a partial grant to help his training. So appreciative, that amount enabled AJ to compete on a limited basis in the 2011 -2012 season, not enough to do well, but enough to stay in the sport.
A.J. trained with the Canadians this past summer as much as his limited funds would allow. Without this special arrangement with Canada, and their allowing him to travel with them during the winter season while he has some funds in place , he would be totally lost.
Now, he must qualify for the Olympics and was told he must obtain a top 20th place World Cup finish. A..J did that, and then was told he must obtain a second Top 20th Finish in order to qualify for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The qualifying requirement has been raised for this third Olympics, and yet his funding has been diminished greatly due in part to his parents not being able to continue with their funding. Because of the lack of funding, not only can he not train as much, or have the necessary training time, he also lacks the proper equipment. A.J. did have new steels (runners) but they were bent in travel, and so A.J. finds himself sliding in one direction, with his steels going in another. He does not have full control of the sled because of the faulty steels and it could be quite hazardous. When you compare this situation with the athletes of other countries who have 3-5 sets of steels and at least 2 sleds each, it is easy to realize that it is not a level playing field as different coaches have recently remarked.
As there is no government funding for the luge program, the Great Britain Luge Association is comprised of volunteers, who also have their own lives and jobs, and so when A.J. found himself in Sochi in the earlier part of the season, and he still had not received sliding vouchers for those training runs, he had to pay $1500 out of pocket from those limited FIL funds for that sliding time as Russia would not allow him to leave until he had paid for same.. not taking his word for it that he had vouchers forthcoming… Those vouchers were received by Christmas and were no longer valid.
You might comment that it was just $1500 less, but when you are only receiving approximately $16000 for the entire season, and just $10,000 in November to last through to April, covering track fees, flights (with 3 Transatlantic crossings and 2 separate trips to Russia in addition to extra travel charges for the 60 lb luge sled), accommodations (based on a 15 week season) , equipment (?), food – the amounts just do not compute. To put everything into perspective, in order to do well in luge, you require coaches,different training and racing sleds and funding. Germany spends over 20 Million Euros a year on luge, and there is even a luge television channel as the sport is so popular in Europe. The majority of luge athletes spend a great amount of time on their home tracks training on and off season, and this of course is not afforded to A.J. due to the funding issue. Many athletes are also paid by their countries.
There are World Cups this year in Russia (1) plus separate training time, Lake Placid, Whistler, Germany (5), Austria(1), Latvia (1)…. you can well understand that the amount does not cover the costs for all of the events.. Every country has a coach, and there is no coach for Great Britain at this present time although there is a great coach, Tommy Zeitz who is ready, willing and able to assist.
A.J. received word that he had obtained an Olympic Scholarship which will afford him some additional funds. However, that scholarship was given to him in November, and now in February, he has yet to receive a penny.. and he is supposed to leave for Sochi this week for the last World Cup. AJ was unable to travel to Sochi last season and the season prior at all due to lack of funding, and considering that this is where the Olympics will be held, how can Great Britain expect a respectful and successful result from their best luger ever?
In trying to limit funds, A.J . traveled from Europe to NY, prior to going to Whistler, and in so doing lost valuable training days in Whistler, and accordingly the same happened this past week when he arrived one day late for training in Lake Placid, and had fewer training runs than the other athletes.
So, A.J .still must still obtain another visa for the Sochi World Cup race, does not have the money to do so, nor airfare, etc. and this while he learns that the other winter sports such as Mens & Women’s Bobsled, Skeleton, etc. all have the necessary funding and coaches for the Olympics.
One of A.J.’s amazing strengths has always been his cheerful and positive outlook, and his perseverance in whatever he does. It has been hard for him to learn that his sport is overlooked, forgotten, neglected and yet a higher standard has been applied for his eligibility to compete in the Sochi Olympics.
How can an athlete perform well and overcome such daunting obstacles and represent Britain well ?
In an article earlier this season by Sky Sports on November 14th, 2012 …. AJ commented that ” For Sochi, I’m hoping that everything will be in place to give me the best possible opportunity to succeed. I don’t think I would be happy with myself four years down the line if I didn’t give it my all. I do not want to leave this sport with any regrets.” but unless he receives money in a timely fashion, and unless he receives money for equipment, shame on Great Britain on insisting on the best and not following through with sufficient financial support which has been proven to be the key for Olympic success.