Putting family first likely to foil Keith Cook’s Olympics

Keith Cook, right, won the prestigious Bristol Open. He is pictured below with his son Jamie, who was second in the British Under-10 fencing championships
Keith Cook, right, won the prestigious Bristol Open. He is pictured below with his son Jamie, who was second in the British Under-10 fencing championships
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Proud Scot Keith Cook fears his Olympic fencing dream will be dashed once and for all – because he refuses to leave his wife, two children and disabled mother behind to train with fellow British team members in the south of England.

Now the Edinburgh foilist, a controversial omission from London 2012 when he chose to prioritise his family, is launching a last-ditch bid to reach the Rio Olympics in two years.

“I won the prestigious Bristol Open recently and that gave me a lot of encouragement having beaten three of the England team along the way,” said Cook.

“That re-affirmed my ability, but I am having to self-fund and that isn’t easy when I need to build up world ranking points ahead of Olympic year in places as far apart as San Francisco and Tokyo.

“The San Francisco competition takes place from October 18-19 and if I had agreed to spend 160 days a year plus competition time in London, the trip would have been underwritten.

“Instead I am having to fork out £650 for a flight, plus another £300 for accommodation, while the entry fee for this opening World Cup event is ¤100.

“The frustrating thing is that it isn’t that I’m refusing to go to London; I can’t with a business to run coaching fencing to youngsters, which is my only income stream apart from some corporate and motivational work, while my mum is now wheelchair-bound.

“Getting to Tokyo for the second World Cup tournament in November will cost around £1500 and I desperately need to appeal for sponsorship.”

Keith does receive back-up from sportscotland, who assisted when he suffered a life-threatening injury in March.

“sportscotland were fantastic in getting me back on the piste and in organising rehab after a three-and-a-half hour operation which was supposed to take 45 minutes.

“I shattered my collarbone playing in the garden with my kids and came very close to severing an artery.

“The surgeon told me, ‘That was so close to your plumbing, it was dangerous’ and people are astonished I have returned so quickly, even retaining the sportscotland Young Persons Sports Coach of the Year title.”

Cook feels he has come through that experience even stronger.

“When I missed out on London my mum said I either give up or dust myself down and try again,” he said.

“For me, at the aged of 33, its Rio or bust.

“However, I really need to get the ranking points so that in Olympic year I don’t enter competitions facing the world’s best in the early rounds. I’m in the gym every morning and coach 700 youngsters a week before training in the evenings.

“Fortunately my wife, Joanne, is exceptionally supportive and knows I will only have one more Olympic chance.”

Added this ambassador for Dyslexia Scotland: “Having grown up in Pilton, I know nothing is handed on a plate and I have no option when competing against and beating funded athletes to set the emotional aspect aside.

“Fencing is too psychological for it to be any way, but it is galling that I could easily be monitored by sportscotland rather than have to move south.

“But I know I am good enough having been in the GB top five for the past decade and in the Bristol Open nobody got near me. My final victory was by 15 hits to seven and no opponent got into double figures against me on the way through.

“I know I am not going to get any leniency from selectors. I am a Scot training in Scotland away from the GB team but I am determined to get to Rio.”

Keith has had one break; the Commonwealth Fencing Championships take place from November 10-16 just down the road at Largs!