By Doug Gray, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Currently pounding the sands of Ipanema with their sights set firmly on representing their country in beach volleyball at the 2012 Olympic Games are two 25 year-old Brits Helen Brown and Liane Herbert.
It is something of a rarity to hear English voices on one of Rio’s numerous volleyball courts, and an even rarer one to see them coming from skilled players, but that is certainly the case for the pair who are trained by Brazilian Tie Santana.
The world’s top 24 qualify for the Games, but with London hosting in 2012 the British team have the luxury of an automatic space. The challenge for Brown and Herbert, however, will be earning their place, having taken the decision to train without the assistance of the British Volleyball Association.
“We decided to do it the Brazilian way” they explain, “Brazil’s coaches are the best in the world. We have learned more this year than in the whole of our careers.” The secret is the one-on-one attention to every part of their game they receive from Santana and his team, and the sheer number of hours they are putting in.
The schedule is stiff, with every day bar Sunday starting at 9:30AM and Tuesday to Thursday including an afternoon session from 3:30-5PM down near Posto 9 of Ipanema, but it is paying dividends.
“The last tournament we played was in The Hague and we finished the highest of the British teams, just a step away from the prize money,” says Herbert.
It is prize money that could prove all important to their progress, with life in Rio not proving cheap and the funds they saved up working in England before heading for Brazil slowly drying up.
“We’re looking for new sponsorship at the moment, having been helped out with finding a place to live by an Englishman, but now we need funds to help us succeed. We’ll be back to the UK in mid-December for Christmas but will return here in January to continue with the schedule.”
The drawback of not working alongside the federation in England is of course the lack of funding, but if the duo make the cut the hard work will have paid off handsomely. Having known each other since they were sixteen years old their partnership is strong, but by working independently without official support they have found it difficult to get the recognition back home for their efforts.
“Everywhere else in the world they do it our way, but its not going to be easy”, said Brown. The Brazilians always cheer for us when they see us play which is great. They like the way that we have adopted their techniques, and for our coaches it is a chance to take a team to the Olympics, which is more of a closed shop with Brazilian teams because the competition is so fierce.”
Happy to see people who want to come down and offer their support to the effort, Herbert and Brown head to China and Thailand at the end of October for the penultimate events of the season, and you can follow their progress via their website brownherbert.com and their Twitter page twitter.com/GBRbeachvolley