The schedule was relentless and the wait anxious but Heather Olver and Lauren Smith’s rollercoaster 12 months has all been worthwhile after they secured their place at Rio 2016.
Great Britain’s leading women’s doubles pair have travelled to 22 countries across six continents in the year-long qualification period for this summer's Olympic Games, competing in 26 events as they chased one of the 16 much-sought-after qualification places for their discipline.
While many athletes have known their spot was all but secure for most of 2016, Olver and Smith’s campaign went down to the wire and even after finishing in the required slots at the end of qualification in May, were left waiting to see if another country launched an appeal.
But all of the air-miles and effort was made worthwhile this week when they were named in Team-GB’s eight-strong badminton squad for Rio 2016.
Smith said: “Emotionally I still don’t believe what is going on and I don’t think I have caught up with the whole situation. It is a dream come true.
“Eventually it will start to feel real I am sure but I know it is going to be one of those things that I look back on when I am older and be so proud of and be proud to tell my kids and the family about.
“It has been so emotionally hard in the last 12 months and physically draining, so to come out with the result that we wanted is so exciting.
“We didn’t know we were set to qualify until right at the end of the 12 months so it took so much out of us emotionally: the fear of not getting the results you wanted and the nerves of having to go on court knowing how much the game meant compared to normally. It was a bit crazy emotionally.
“It took it all out of us both but now we are on the other side it was totally worth it.”
“The last few weeks have been surreal but now it is all announced, it is fantastic and is finally beginning to sink in,” Heathfield’s Olver added.
“It has been a long journey and this year has been tough but I am so pleased that we have made it and we are off to Rio!
“It is definitely one of my biggest dreams come true. I have taken part in the Commonwealths, Worlds and Europeans so this was the last one I really wanted and with it only being once every four years, it is not always achievable. I am so happy that we are going.”
The duo had already been successful before joining forces in September 2014, having won individual and team medals at the 2014 Commonwealth Games - and in Olver’s case another group bronze four years earlier in Delhi.
They have since gone on to establish themselves as the best women’s pair in the country, winning the English National Championships for the last two years.
Olver and Smith are currently 26th in the world and while acknowledging a title challenge would be a tough ask, they are looking to ruffle a few feathers in Brazil this summer.
Olver said: “Our hopes for the tournament are to perform as best as we can. We are going in as the underdogs so we can just enjoy ourselves and see if we can challenge the best pairings in the world.
“Within the women’s doubles it could almost go anywhere. There are six to eight pairs who will be in contention for a medal and it will be an exciting event.”
Longtown’s Smith added: “Our hopes for the tournament will be different to other people because just qualifying was our main goal and a huge achievement in itself.
“So we can go out there and play freely. We will be the underdog in a lot of the games but that is great because it means we can go on court and capitalise on them being a little bit nervous.
“We are going to go out there and give it everything we can and we want to enjoy it – but you only enjoy playing when you are playing well – and we will be trying to win our games.”
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