A teenage swimmer today begged for a last-ditch reprieve after funding for her Olympic dream was axed.
Lucy Bowes, 15, from Marton, is a member of the GB Synchronised Swimming Squad and is in training ahead of the 2016 games in Rio De Janeiro.
But a bombshell was dropped on the elite team’s hopes when UK Sport announced all funding for the sport – £4.34m – would end in April – potentially leaving Lucy’s dream in tatters.
The heartbroken youngster has sacrificed a life at home and her education to follow her bid to become an Olympian.
She said: “I’ve given up so much.
“If the funding is cut, I would have to start all over again.”
And her mother today accused sport bosses and Prime Minister David Cameron of making a mockery of their claims of providing a “lasting legacy” of the London Olympics in 2012.
Team bosses were today currently awaiting the outcome of an appeal, expected next month, but if they are not successful there is a chance the whole programme could be shut down.
In the meantime, Lucy, a former pupil at St Nicholas Primary and St George’s High School, can only hope her push for Rio isn’t dead in the water.
“I can’t even think about what would happen,” she said.
“For the moment we’ve got an appeal in.
“If that isn’t successful there’s the possibility of a legal appeal.
“But for now we’ve just got to keep on working.”
Lucy, one of the first ever winners of The Gazette’s AllStars awards in 2011, celebrating youth sport, has had to make huge sacrifices to chase her Olympic dream.
She’s moved hundreds of miles away from home, to the sport’s High Performance Centre in Aldershot, Hampshire and has put much of her schooling on hold - taking just four GCSE subjects, with work fitting in around her training time.
She lives with a host family in Aldershot and goes to school two days a week. She trains for 40 hours a week.
She said: “I’ve moved away from Blackpool, I’ve had to change schools, I have to live with another family.
“I’ve given up so much.
“If the funding is cut, if the programme goes, I would have to start all over again.
“It would be like starting a new life.”
It’s something Lucy’s mother, Susan Bowes is only too aware of.
And she knows how devastated her daughter is, despite Lucy putting on a brave face.
“All we got was the odd text,” she said.
“But you know she had been crying about it.
“It’s just devastating.
“If she had to come home, she’d have to start a new school or college, she’d have to take more GCSEs and she’d be catching up.
“She’s invested so much, we’ve invested so much, it’s years and years of work.”
Lucy is desperate to be given more time for the nine girl team, of which she is a part, to prove themselves.
She said: “The Olympic team from 2012 have all retired.
“This is a new squad, we are all so young.
“We want to be there in Rio and by Tokyo in 2020 I think we’ve got a great chance of a medal.
“Hopefully they’ll just give us the chance we are asking for.”
Mum Susan, of Halton Gardens, was left to question how the decision by UK Sport fitted in with the talk of Olympic legacy which followed the 2012 London Olympics.
Following the Games, Prime Minister David Cameron said it would create a “massive legacy” and encourage people to “do more exercise”.
He said: “The whole country can benefit from the legacy of the Games because of the inspiration they will bring to people young and old.”
But Mrs Bowes, 53, said: “There was so much talk of backing British sport, in particular female sport.
“This is one of the only all-female sports in the Olympics, these girls are fantastic role models.
“It just doesn’t fit with what they were saying.
“I’ve nothing against UK Sport, they have been exceptional with the girls so far.
“I just can’t understand why this decision has been taken.”
Lucy was presented with her AllStars award by Paralympic star Shelly Woods, who had her own funding withdrawn last year.
Shelly today urged Lucy not to give up on her dream no matter what the outcome of any appeal,
She said: “I met so many inspiring young athletes, Lucy among them.
“All I can say for Lucy is to tell her to keep going.
“She’s got to do that for herself.
“You can’t let outside factors, things out of your control, impact on your performance.
“She’s just got to keep up the work and keep striving to be the best she can be.”
UK Sport insisted funding was under constant review and cash was allocated to ensure the strongest medal hopes were given the most support.
A spokesman said: “Our mission remains about getting the right support, to the right athletes for the right reasons.
“Therefore the overarching aim has been to ‘reach down’ to fund every credible medal shot for the 2016 Rio, or Tokyo 2020 Olympic games.
“This process has focused on identifying and assessing the athlete talent and their future medal potential in each sports’ programme.
“UK Sport will continue to conduct an annual review in line with its investment principles. The door is therefore open to all Olympic and Paralympic sports to present a business case for investment where they can demonstrate that they are genuinely able to attain the standard required to be part of the World Class Performance Programme.”
GB Sychronised swimming currently has an online petition calling for the funding decision to be reversed.
You can find it at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/60290