Stars of 2012 head for the Olympic job centre

After the gold rush most GB athletes are struggling to make ends meet

Tom Daley ended his mentoring role in the ITV1 diving reality series Splash! last night, tucking a six-figure cheque into his Speedos. For his erstwhile synchro sidekick Pete Waterfield, reality is somewhat different. He is struggling to keep his head above water, having lost his UK Sport funding.

A month shy of his 32nd birthday Waterfield, veteran of four Olympics and a silver medallist in 2004, says he can no longer afford to stay in the sport. "I have to pay a mortgage, two kids to feed as well as a car to run," he said. "Without the funding I can't do any of that. The only way I can carry on diving after 20 years in the sport is if I find funding from another source. Otherwise I'll be looking for another job."

He is not alone. For so many who took part in London 2012 the only real legacy is a daily visit to the job centre. No pots of gold for them. Which is why some 150 Olympians and Paralympians thronged Reading's Madejski Stadium last month, trying to find out if there is a working life after sport at an inaugural Athlete Career Fair, set up for those who wish to keep competing as well as the ones who have retired.

The fair, a joint initiative by the British Olympic Association, the British Paralympic Association, UK Sport, the English Institute of Sport and the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust, is a continuation of the EIS Performance Lifestyle programme, which has been running since 2004 to help athletes find work after retiring from sport. Over the past four-year cycle, nearly 100 athletes have been offered part-time placements or internships with companies such as O2, Cadbury and InterContinental Hotels Group.

Bringing together athletes and prospective employers was Georgina Harland, a modern pentathlon bronze medallist and now a sports engagement manager for the BOA. "It resonates with what I experienced as an athlete when I went through the same transition stage," she said. "For the majority of athletes, when the funding stops and you step into the big wide world, it is a daunting prospect. So far the feedback has been very positive, lots of interviews have been arranged – but no job offers as yet. These things take time."

Team GB volleyball player Andy Pink has been lucky, starting a job with PR company Brazil after searching since October. "It's tough to get your foot in the door in the current economic climate," he said. "I stopped keeping count after 20 interviews. It's good to have an Olympics in your CV, but when you turn up all they want to talk about is the Olympic Games."

The American-born Pink, who has played volleyball since he was 16, has now retired at 30 with the future of the sport uncertain because of the recent funding cuts. "I'd had enough of living out of a suitcase and getting paid next to nothing," he admitted. "I could have made more money driving a minicab around London. Most of us went into debt every time we played for the national team."

His female GB colleague Rachel Laybourne, also 30, knows all about debt; she still has to pay off around £10,000. Since London she can no longer afford to play her sport at elite level even though she has finally landed a job in an Essex school teaching volleyball, a role she got through "a friend of a friend of a friend".

"But I'm financially crippled, I haven't paid off a penny yet," she said. "When I got my first pay packet and paid for my accommodation and food I didn't have anything left. Every member of our team was in debt, constantly borrowing money. I was absolutely staggered by the number of athletes at the careers fair. I didn't realise so many were out of work and I was very thankful I had a job.

"I know of one guy in the men's team, Kieran O'Malley, who's written dozens of letters and has been in and out of job centres every day since the Games. He's not got any further than a second interview."

The EIS scheme helped Ben Hawes, 32, a former GB Olympic hockey captain, to get a job in marketing with the hotel group IHG, but he said: "A massive number of those who competed in 2012 are struggling to find work. I speak to guys in the hockey team regularly who are up against it. It's probably only one per cent of Olympians who can make a living on the back of the Games; even some guys with medals can find it difficult when you've been put on a pedestal and suddenly you are back in the real world. There has to be a big swallowing of pride to start at the bottom of a career ladder."

Will Waterfield be able to climb the ladder to the high board again? For him, pride comes before a dive: "I'll never go on the dole, no way. I'm a fighter. I'll find a way to survive."

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence