After the rug was pulled from under the sport of water polo, Ross McLean tracks down Olympian Chloe Wilcox who takes time out from her domestic commitments with CN Mataro in Spain to consider the future and reflect on past glories.
LONDON 2012 star Chloe Wilcox has condemned the decision of UK Sport to strip water polo of its Olympic funding.
Around £350m will be spent preparing Britain’s best medal prospects for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and Tokyo four years later.
But as it stands, water polo – along with basketball, synchronised swimming and weightlifting – no longer fits the bill as a potential Olympic success stories with £4.5m of funding withdrawn.
While British Swimming intends to appeal the decision, almost overnight the sport of water polo has been thrown into disarray and left to face an uncertain future.
Current funding only came into force last May after being agreed in December 2012, with a lasting Olympic legacy the aim following a quarter-final finish in London.
Further strides were made only last month as Great Britain qualified for the European Championships for the second consecutive time.
Given such progress, Wilcox – who was also part of England team at the 2006 Commonwealth Games – believes UK Sport have adopted a somewhat short-sighted approach.
“There was no sign whatsoever that funding was to be cut and we’re just in total shock, we can’t believe it and it just seems really stupid,” she said.
“It hasn’t even been a year since our last round of funding came through, so a carrot was dangled in front of us and then taken away before we had half a chance to show what we can do.
“We have gone from over £4m which is double what we had before London to absolutely nothing and it would be sad if the journey the sport has been on comes to an end.
“Our first game in London was against Russia and we lost by a goal although a year before we were losing to teams like Russia by ten and two years before by 20.
“We competed in the Olympics and put up a really good fight, losing in the quarter finals to Spain who went on to win silver.
“That is what UK Sport hasn’t seen. We weren’t an amazing team two years out before London but we worked hard and improved.
“And that improvement has continued and we have proved we belong at the top level. It’s so frustrating.”
Wilcox, a former Appleby Grammar School student, became the first British water polo player touch the ball in an Olympic setting two years ago.
The 27-year-old, from Reagill, near Shap, also scored the nations’ first field goal in the 7-6 defeat to Russia, finishing as GB’s top-scorer with seven goals from six matches.
But funding restrictions look as though future generations may be denied the opportunity to sample and savour an Olympic Games, with Wilcox retaining fond recollections of London 2012.
“When I think about it now and put myself back there it is almost like a daydream and a bubble and so strange to think about,” she added.
“The opening ceremony was unbelievable and the day after the Queen was shown around one of the houses next to ours and we met the Royal Family.
“It was incredible walking into the water polo arena – the atmosphere was electric and there was just so much support from everybody.
“My family came to watch and they said everyone was buzzing on the Tube going home. The whole country came together and that’s what made it really special.
“In terms of performing, we lost to Spain in the quarter-finals by two goals but were losing by just one with 30 seconds to go – it was our game to win.
“Medal potential is a difficult one as it can be so hit and miss – Holland won the Olympics in Beijing but did not qualify for London – but we were clearly progressing as a country.”
After five years based at the sport’s high performance headquarters in Manchester, Wilcox joined Barcelona-based side CN Mataro to play professionally in the Spanish domestic league following her Olympic adventure.
The shifting sands of funding has forced Wilcox and her international team-mates – 13 currently play at clubs around Europe – to reappraise the next couple of months and years.
“I can continue to play and support myself through the club, but representing your country is what it’s all about really,” she said.
“The original plan was we were all going to meet in Manchester after our domestic leagues have finished but that is now out the window.
“There is no chance we can go without any money being available – I don’t think there is enough money for pool hire even.
“One option for me is to stay in Spain for another year as I absolutely love the lifestyle - we train outdoors all year and there are no 7am training sessions.
“But I may also look to the Australian National League, I’ve always had an eye on it. We’ll have to see.
“We all have to make important life decisions over the coming months given the funding cut.”