22nd November 2017
Team England will send both men’s and women’s beach volleyball pairs to next year’s Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast.
Chris Gregory and Jake Sheaf have officially qualified as the men’s pair, while Victoria Palmer and Jess Grimson will be competing in the women’s event, as they too officially qualified through their ranking position.
It’s the first time beach volleyball has been part of the Commonwealth Games and England’s number one beach pairs can’t wait to make history and represent their country in April.
Jess Grimson said: “For any athlete, qualifying for a major games is always the ambition and I did not anticipate that it would be a reality one day. It really is a dream come true.
“We have worked so hard, had many knock backs but to come out the other side and forever be the first English beach volleyball team to ever compete at a Commonwealth Games is history and something we will keep with us forever.”
For Chris Gregory, it has been a remarkable journey to reach the Games. Before London 2012, he was part of the 'Sporting Giants' talent identification programme. The scheme, organised by legendary rower Steve Redgrave, saw people over a certain height tested for their sporting potential. Standing at six foot ten, Chris was seen as perfect for volleyball. He went on to be paired with Jake Sheaf and they quickly became British champions. Now, Chris is looking forward to competing at a major games.
He said: “To qualify has not only been the result of one qualification season. It’s been years and years of work, which has lead to this moment. One of the most exciting parts of it all is to be a part of a wider team at the Commonwealths. That is something special and a really inspiring part of competing with Team England.”
The beach volleyballers will be part of team of around 600 athletes and staff, in what will be England’s largest ever team to represent the nation in an overseas sporting event. Team England will compete in 18 sports, including 38 para medal events.
Joaquin and Javier Bello took gold in the beach volleyball at the 2017 Youth Commonwealth Games and with England now represented at the full Games, it gives the sport a new platform and the opportunity to boost the profile of beach volleyball in this country. Something England’s Jess Grimson is delighted to see.
“It’s huge that beach volleyball is part of the Commonwealth programme and obviously beach volleyball is big in Australia, so it will be amazing,” said Jess. “English beach volleyball isn’t really on the map so to have the Games televised and have people seeing England competing in beach volleyball, there will be a bigger association with it being a proper sport and that we are hardworking athletes.”
Both pairs will go into the 2018 Commonwealth Games in a confident frame of mind and with the chance of winning a medal in the sport’s first Commonwealth Games. The men’s pair qualified for the Games as the third highest ranked team, while the women qualified as the fourth ranked team and have fared well when they have met higher-ranked opposition in the past.
Team England Beach Volleyball Team Leader and sport psychologist, Dr Emma Kavanagh is excited at what the athletes could achieve at the Games. She said: “With optimal preparation, both teams have the chance to do extremely well at the Games and we are excited by the drive and the ambition of all athletes who will be representing their sport and country in April.”
The focus is now on the teams getting the best preparation possible for the Games.
“Preparation for the Commonwealth Games will focus on physical and mental conditioning, and playing in selected pre-Games tournaments for vital match experience,” explains Emma. “We will attend the Games as a team ready to compete and with significant aspirations.”
Part of the preparation will also include working to find sponsorship to back their journey to the Gold Coast. The women's team are completely self-funded, while the men have received Sport England Lottery funding. Both pairs are looking for more sponsorships to support their campaigns ahead of the Games.
“With the Commonwealths in sight, we are taking the leap and going full time training,” says Jess. “It is a huge leap for us as we have been entirely self-funded and relied on our salary to fund living and our sporting ambitions. We want to go to the Games and come back without any regrets, so it’s all or nothing. With that being said, we are on a huge sponsor hunt at the moment. We have never received any funding and that has significantly affected the way we have had to plan and work out our season. Now, as officially full-time athletes we need to fund day-to-day living while being able to facilitate the optimum training environment to put us in the best shape possible for the Games.”
The men’s team are also looking for new partnerships.
“We've been fortunate to work with great sponsors, as a self-funded team, in order to have some training and competition opportunities like this,” says Chris. “However, we are still offering partnership opportunities ahead of this last stretch on the road to the Gold Coast in order to ensure the we achieve the preparation we're looking for before travelling to Australia to compete.”
Having worked so hard to reach the Gold Coast, both pairs will not let up as they aim to achieve the most they possible can at the Games, for themselves and the sport. There is no doubt that sponsorship deals could make a big difference.
Team Leader Emma says: “All four of them are driven and dedicated to their sport and that’s is why they manage to handle the pressure of generating the finances to support their volleyball aspirations and perform on the court at an elite level. There is still the need to find sponsorship which would make a significant difference to how the teams prepare for the Games and how far they could go in the tournament.”