Volleyball pair come in from the cold

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The Independent Online
Beach volleyball is making its debut as a medal sport at the Atlanta Olympics and Britain will be represented by the pairing of Amanda Glover, 25, and Audrey Cooper, 31.

It will be the first time a British volleyball team, either indoor or beach, has qualified for the Olympics. The duo guaranteed their place in March. They are the present English champions, and rank fourth in Europe.

During the past year they have competed in the World Beach Championships in Brazil, Australia, Puerto Rico, Indonesia and Japan.

Glover and Cooper, however, have not had the exotic training locations of their opponents. Not for them the beaches of Bondi, California or Hawaii - the British participants practise next to the pier on Bournemouth beach.

During the week they train at the Ruislip Lido, Middlesex, and head south each weekend to hit the sand, come rain or shine. "We have to get out there, even if we are wearing goggles for rain rather than sunglasses," Glover says.

By day, Glover works for Hackney council leisure services as a recreation officer. Cooper earns her living as publicity manager for Racal, the company that sponsors the team.

Their nine-to-five occupations have not dented their faith in the Olympic dream. "People warn us not to be overawed, to enjoy the experience," Cooper says. "But you are never satisfied with just getting there. We want to do well."

The pair are ranked 15th in the world, but of those going to Atlanta, they will rank 12th. Glover is optimistic about their chances. She says: "We should be OK. Our results so far aren't bad and we're looking for a top-eight position. But it's always there, in the back of our minds. We'd like a medal."

Glover grew up by the seaside in Weymouth, Dorset, but became interested in the sport only five years ago when she went to a beach volleyball tournament.

"I went for a bit of fun, got hooked, and it started from there." She adds that although it is an attractive sport for spectators, the physical demands are rigorous. "When people come to watch, they realise it's not as easy as they'd thought."

Cooper agrees. "Because there are only two of you on court, you get through a great deal of work." But the work has been worth it. "This is a dream come true. Two and a half years ago it was an ambition, an idea. But now it's a reality."

The pair have been surprised by the attention they have been receiving this year. Their team manager, Marzena Bogdanowicz, has been inundated with requests for interviews. "It's been so hectic recently, none of us have had a chance to stop and think about it."

For Glover, too, their achievements are just starting to sink in. "It's really exciting, but it's only in the last few months that it's hit us - we're going to the Olympics."

Nick Harris