Although Rio 2016 is off the agenda, Leeds synchronised swimmer Rebecca Richardson is fully focused on Baku 2015. Lee Sobot reports.
FOR Leeds synchronised swimmer Rebecca Richardson, this year’s European Games should have been a taster for potential Olympic experience next year.
The withdrawal of UK Sport’s central funding for her lesser known sport has made dreams of Rio impossible.
And that blow has only made the teenager more determined to shine in Baku with Richardson admitting: “it’s probably the only big competition that I’m going to do.”
Temple Moor High School pupil Richardson hails from a city famed for making a splash in aquatics with both the City Of Leeds Diving Club and increasingly the City Of Leeds Swimming Club making national and international headlines.
The diving club is taking four competitors to this month’s European Games in Lydia Rosenthall, Katherine Torrance, Lois Toulson and Matty Lee while Georgia Coates, Amelia Clynes and Layla Black represent the city’s swimming squad.
Yet the City Of Leeds Synchronised Swimming Club is quietly making its own waves on a national and international sphere with Richardson the city’s sole representative heading for Baku competing for Team GB.
Richardson, 16, is coached by Sarah Speers who was recently awarded the prestigious Woman of Achievement in the Sport category at the annual Sue Ryder Yorkshire Women of Achievement awards at the Royal Armouries.
With Speers’ expertise and former gymnast Richardson’s natural talent, everything was in place for the swimmer to make a global splash at next year’s Olympic Games in Rio.
Yet the withdrawal of funding for the sport means GB will only send a duet team to South America – an event the teenager does not compete in – with the team swimmer admitting her Olympic hopes have subsequently been dashed.
Not that there’s time for the former Colton Primary School pupil to dwell on the disappointment with the teenager still in the midst of her GCSEs and having to revise for her remaining science exams while in Baku.
Richardson knows she also had the formula for success in Rio – but now aims to turn frustration into glory at this month’s European Games.
The Colton-based starlet told the YEP: “It’s quite gutting really that we don’t have the funding any more because competing in the sport is quite expensive.
“Every weekend I have to travel down to the national headquarters in Surrey which is four to five hours and then there’s buying all the kit and the travel expenses and the hotels and just the training in general.
“It was like a dream to go to the Olympics but now it’s out of reach because we don’t have the funding any more. It’s quite a shame really. It’s always been there but I don’t tend to look at it any more because it’s not a goal.
“That makes this competition a really big deal because it’s probably the only one that I’m going to do and it’s the first European Games.
“I want to do really well in it and I’m quite proud to be the only one representing Leeds.
“The rest of them are down south and train down there but coming together with the team is very exciting and I’m really excited to go.”
Richardson jetted out to Baku from Heathrow on Tuesday after a Monday evening flight from Leeds Bradford to London.
The teenager travelled out with Mauritius-born mum Marie-Claire and 20-year-old sister Angelique who also has a part to play at the first ever European Games which get underway this afternoon.
Richardson’s older sister is a student at Northumbria University but also coaches synchronised swimming at Gateshead and will act as a volunteer in Baku, helping to tot up the judge’s scores.
And it’s a fair bet the older sibling will also be asked to help with her sister’s science revision.
Year 11 student Richardson sighed: “It’s a six-hour flight to Baku but I’ve got my revision to do for my two science exams! It was all in my hand luggage ready for my flight.
“I’ll be revising while I’m out there and afterwards which is not ideal but I’ve got do it and there’s a few other girls out there that are doing it as well.
“I’ve just got my science left and then I’m done.”
And at least Richardson travels to Baku already accustomed to competing abroad having already represented GB in Croatia, Greece and Turkey.
The irony of this month’s trip to Azerbaijan is that the jaunt actually brings her closer to the current whereabouts of dad Peter who works in Cyprus.
Richardson explained: “My dad works in casinos and hotels but he’s not coming because he’s working! I’ve never really heard much about Baku but I’m sure it will be good.
“It’s exciting competing abroad and Croatia and Greece were my first two international competitions.
“And I’ve also competed in Istanbul which was the qualifier for this competition that I’m doing now. I’ve been all over!
“It’s quite different as you have got the culture and then eating different foods while you are out there.
“Then you have the different hotels and it’s a good experience overall.”
It’s a life that Richardson could get used to but the talented teenager knows, without central funding, her days of international synchronised swimming glories may be numbered.
Assessing her aims after Baku, the teenager pondered: “I’m not too sure yet because with the funding being cut the Olympics is mainly just the duet.
“At London 2012 the team retired and all the athletes have gone their different ways.
“But now the funding has been cut so we can’t really afford that any more so they will only be taking a duet next year and I just do the team.
“I’ll just try and keep going as I am really.”
For now that means attempting to make a splash in Baku, and whatever the future holds the teenager has already done both her city and sport immensely proud.
Better still, with or without central funding, Richardson says that under the guidance of Speers, at the City Of Leeds Synchronised Swimming Club there are more talented youngsters on their way.
The youngster pondered: “Synchronised swimming is a very different sport from all the other sports that people have seen like water polo and diving.
“It’s quite unique. But in Leeds we have quite a lot of younger ones who are all growing up to be successful athletes.
“Sarah Speers is the coach at Leeds and I’ve had her even before I’ve been in the England team.
“Having her coach me every day – I’m really grateful as she’s such a good coach. I couldn’t have got this far without her.”