What does a British Olympic hero do when the 2012 glory fades? Not everyone can cash in on the merry-go-round of award ceremonies, public appearances and TV shows. For many, it’s time to return to the daily routine of solitary training, because it’s the only way to earn a living.
Bronze medal-winning Robbie Grabarz, the British high jump joint record holder, has already been in training for almost four months in preparation for the first major athletics competition of 2013 in Glasgow this weekend.
“I never did high jump because I wanted to be famous. I can’t imagine anything worse, in my opinion,” he says. “But I know some people see all the attention after London as a kind of escape from athletics. This celebrity lifestyle that seems so easy and so wonderful, they want it and they go for it. The negative comes, of course, when those people let trying to be famous distract them from their training,” he warns – although he admits he’s been spared the kind of attention that gold medallists have had to deal with.
“In track and field there’s no letting up; you can’t afford to take a break in your programme.”
Afford is the operative word. A year ago Grabarz was dropped from UK Lottery funding and was struggling to raise enough money to carry on competing. Going into London 2012 he didn’t even have a kit sponsor and had to buy his own spikes and gear. When he won the $40,000 Athletics Diamond League prize in Zurich at the end of last year, he joked it was $40,000 more than he’d earned in the whole of 2011.
Now Britain’s number-one high jumper is once again on the list of top-level funding from UK Athletics, which offers medal hopefuls a personal income of up to £27,737 a year as well as around £55,000-worth of training and health support.
“Financially, being on the UK Athletics funding list relieves all pressure,” he explains. “It means I’m not afraid to say no if some offer away from athletics comes in that I don’t want to do.”
Grabarz will also earn appearance fees, but he’s still a long way from the earning potential of Britain’s highest-profile bronze medallist Tom Daley who, according to Nigel Currie of marketing agency BrandRapport, is expected to receive up to £1 million this year.
But, as Grabarz reiterates, he’s in no mood to become a celebrity. “It’s weird seeing on TV all these people you went to training camps with. I mean, people have launched minor celebrity careers off the back of last summer; it’s all very surreal, but it doesn’t really bother me,” he laughs.
Hang on, though. Only a few weeks ago Grabarz was one of the 16 competing athletes paddling and pedalling away on BBC’s Superstars. Isn’t that just the sort of distraction he’s talking about?
“Superstars was the one thing I had to do, no matter what. I told my coach I was going to be away filming for the weekend and we just fitted it into my schedule. I’m glad I did it; I don’t think I’ve laughed so much since I was at school! I’m only human, after all. I’d go mad if I didn’t let myself go a bit.”
Yet as he steps out into the cold light of another January training session, his message to those still trying to dine out on the success of London 2012 is clear. “You can’t hide in track and field,” he warns. “If they want to continue with their athletics career then they will get their comeuppance come the summer, which will either make them pull their finger out and come back in 2014, or they’ll disappear.”
Coverage of the Athletics UK International Match begins on Saturday at 1:30pm on BBC1