Rio 2016 for water polo talent

RIO 2016 beckons for a young Stretford water polo player who is on an Olympic fast track and has been sharing tips with Prince William.

Richard Goodwin-Robertson, 17, who works part-time at Quality Save in Stretford Mall, spent five days experiencing the excitement of London 2012 as part of Team GB’s Olympic Ambition Programme.

While he was there he rubbed shoulders with the heir to the throne who was a keen player of the sport when he was at St Andrew’s University.

Richard, an A-level student at Loreto College, said: “Prince William was interested in coming to watch the matches and support the men.

“A person we were with knew him and had met him before and stayed in touch. The Prince decided he wanted to come down and meet those of us who were in the Olympic Ambition Programme.

“The programme definitely gives you an insight and for me it was about motivation, to see what you can achieve. It also helps prepare athletes for future games so that they do not get overwhelmed by the occasion,” he said.

“I’ve already been told there is a very high chance I will be going to the Rio Olympics and I’ve been training with the GB men’s squad, for the past seven months already,” said Richard.

Asked about Prince William, he added: “We chatted generally throughout the match. He said there were times he wished he was playing again. He was pleased to meet with us and certainly seemed knowledgeable about the game.

“We thought it would be rude to ask to have our photographs taken with him but I think someone has got us on film and put it on line.”

The 6ft 4ins teenager is the eldest son of proud dad Gavin who is manager of the busy Stretford Mall Quality Save.

Gavin said his son is one of 130 hand picked athletes selected by the British Olympic Association to take part in the fast track scheme across all the sports.

“I’d better start saving!” said Gavin who believes that because of his age, if Richard proves good enough he could look forward to two or three Olympic tournaments.

Gavin said: “About four years ago we decided to immigrate to the UK from South Africa. Samantha, my wife, was born in the UK although had lived in South Africa since she was 10.

“Richard had started playing water polo in secondary school and it was something he did well at in a very short space of time.

“I got into water polo more when I came to the UK. It was a big risk coming over, a big challenge. A lot of people thought we were mad, coming over just as the recession was starting. We came to give both the boys better opportunities in life.”

At first the family – which also includes Richard’s younger brother Jason, 15 – were based in the South of England and Richard played water polo for the Watford club.

“Most of the time we had been used to sitting around poolside watching Richard play matches but then I wanted to go beyond being a spectator and wanted to go into coaching.”

Gavin successfully completed not just a coaching course but a table official’s course, a referee’s course and in his first year coaching at Watford, won regional competitions, as well as reaching the semi-finals in nationals.

But with the Commonwealth aquatic centre in Manchester, Gavin wanted to move the family so that Richard could have access to better coaching facilities.

Although Richard started swimming as a baby, he has never had professional swimming instruction. He now plays for Stretford Water Polo Club as well as City of Manchester’s division one side.

“In South Africa water polo is a way of life and your whole life is based around training” said Richard,” but over here you have to fit it in around everything else and that can be difficult.”

Colin McCrory, Stretford Mall Manager, said: “What a terrific coup it is for the Stretford Mall to have one of the youngsters who work with us to be tipped for the next Olympics.

“Richard and his dad Gavin are very valued members of the Stretford Mall team and I am delighted to hear about Richard’s achievements so far and wish him every success for the next few years. We will all be rooting for him to achieve the GB squad for Rio.”

Richard is studying maths, physics and chemistry and law for A level and will probably have a gap year before university. But when he is training full time he puts between 25-30 hours in the pool and the gym, getting up at 5am, going to college after training and then back to the pool or gym after college.

Team GB Chef de Mission and British Olympic Association CEO Andy Hunt said: “The Olympic Ambition Programme is a key element of our legacy planning for future Olympic Games, both summer and winter.

“The young athletes and coaches participating in the programme experience the unique atmosphere and environment of the Olympic Games and gain a very special behind the scenes insight with Team GB.”

Great Britain’s water polo squad was included at London 2012 only at the last minute thanks to funding from British Gas and it will be December before men’s water polo discovers whether funding will continue so that the men’s water polo team can go to South America.

Most of the GB team play for teams abroad and train abroad due to funding constraints. Richard has been invited to train with the clubs in Germany.

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