18 Jan 2012

Olympic hopeful Ellington’s close shave after eBay bid

As hundreds of Britain’s best athletes strive to compete at London 2012, Channel 4 News catches up with one Olympic hopeful who auctioned himself on eBay to be in with a chance.

Following a blaze of publicity about his unconventional quest for funding, sprinter James Ellington finally thought he would realise his dream of competing in London 2012 when a sponsor came forward via eBay offering the £30,000 he needs to cover his expenses.

But when that offer turned out to be a hoax, he was in danger of seeing his lifelong hopes dashed as he was too short of money to give up the coaching that supplemented his income in order to concentrate on training full time.

But he was in with a second chance when the CEO of shaving company, King of Shaves, was so impressed by his initial attempts to find a sponsor that he stepped in, offering the 26-year-old a sponsorship deal.

So while James could yet be sprinting towards the finishing line, securing funding is just one hurdle.

On Tuesday, a knot in a red ribbon caused the dreams of a team of five British rhythmic gymnasts to unfurl after it refused to untie itself, spreading panic among the women. Their performance subsequently flopped, leaving them with a score of 44.950.

Despite a good score in theprevious day’s five-balls routine, they found themselves an agonising 0.273 marks short of a place in the games. And with this, their hopes of a place this summer ended in tears behind a big black curtain at Greenwich Arena in London.

A lot of people have a misconception of athletics. It’s not all glitz and glamour. James Ellington

The British Olympics Association said there are 1,500 athletes in the frame for this summer. Of those, UK Sport has said it is funding 1,484. And of those competing to get through, just 550 will actually make it into Team GB.

James Ellington, who receives some funding from UK Sport, said: “A lot of people have a misconception of athletics. They think there’s lots of money in it, but there’s only lots of money when you’re one of the world’s best. Being one of the top athletes in the country, people think you must be on decent money, because you’re in the top five. But it’s not like that. It’s not all glitz and glamour.”

Securing the new sponsorship deal means he can focus full-time on his training, without being forced to leave the track to coach. “It means I can do exactly what I want to do in terms of training,” he said. “I’ve got lots of confidence now. This will hopefully be my time. Knowing I’ve got a sponsor and my name’s in the limelight – that’s going to make me run even better.”

It could also provide an opportunity for Team GB to win a coveted medal, he said.

This year, we’ve got a massive chance in the relay, but it’s all about keeping the baton. If we’ve got the right team, and everyone does their jobs, and no-one panics, I think it’s a must – we have to get a medal. Who knows, in the next few years it may be a world championship medalist, or another Olympic medalist in Rio.”

When people are in need you can shave their lives. Will King

For his sponsor, Will King, CEO and founder of King of Shaves, James’ innovative attempts to auction himself on eBay – and the fact he was clean shaven when they first met – sealed the deal.

Of his decision to support James, he said: “When people are in need, I know it’s a bit of a cheesy soundbite here, but you can shave their lives. With somebody like James who has worked really hard, to give someone the opportunity and see them fly and you never know where they might end up. The Blade might beat the Bolt.”

The deal will involve James sporting gear emblazoned with the King of Shaves logo at all available opportunities, also providing valuable advertising for the company at a time when all eyes are on Great Britain.

So far, 21 athletes have been selected to Team GB for London 2012, from sailing, athletics and boxing.

But with around 529 places left, hundreds more who funded with little more than pure ambition and the dream of one day clutching an Olympic medal, many more tears are likely to fall.