Handball: Team GB cleaned toilets and slept on floors in pursuit of Olympic dreams


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The Independent Online

In a true underdog tale, members of Britain's first handball team had to clean toilets and work on building sites so they could compete in the Games after their funding was cut.

Marooned in Denmark after their government grant was cut, players slept on floors to pursue their dream of competing in the London Games.

Great Britain’s men were playing Sweden today, following a gutsy 44-15 defeat to defending champions France in their Olympic debut on Sunday.

Their underdog story began in 2006 in the Danish costal town of Aarhus, where 18 British men over 6ft 3in tall and 12 women over 5ft 11in were on secondment to a top club academy.

The squad were recruited through UK Sport’s Sporting Giants drive to attract tall people to handball, volleyball and rowing for the Olympics.

But in 2009, the Government pulled funding for the project, which had cost nearly £3 million. Sebastian Prieto, 25, who plays right wing, said: “It was very difficult, some chose to leave because they couldn’t take any more.”

Playmaker Ciaran Williams, 24, and pivot Chris McDermott, 23, cleaned lavatories and painted walls so they could continue training. McDermott said: “At the time, my family were about to be evicted (for mortgage arrears). My father was put in the position where there wasn’t enough money to pay the bills and I was abroad so I didn’t have any money to live… He borrowed some money off my grandfather.”

Winger John Pearce, 24, became a painter-decorator for a year before getting a contract as a semi pro in Norway while working from 6am to 8pm as a removal man “in -23C”.

Christopher Mohr worked from 6.30am to 11.30am in a bakery and then went to training. He said: “People were doing anything to get by.”

Williams and several others later secured contracts in Germany but many still scrape a living to play.