As the sport of beach volleyball took Great Britain by storm at London 2012, Chris Gregory was one such member of the public whipped up in the frenzy of it all.
But as a beach volleyballer himself, having discovered the sport through the Talent Identification programme ‘Sporting Giants’ a few years before the Games begun, Gregory was somewhat envious as he watched the men’s final from the stands at Horse Guards Parade.
However, fast forward to the present day and Gregory is about to realise his Team GB dream as he and Jake Sheaf get ready to compete at the first ever European Games in Baku, action on the sand getting underway on Wednesday.
It is a far cry from his early forays into the sport where his 6’ 10” frame saw him selected as one of four from 3,800 applicants who made it through trial and testing phases for the Team GB squad.
But with Rio 2016 fast approaching Gregory is not looking back, focusing purely on the future as he bids to ensure he doesn’t miss out on the biggest party beach volleyball has ever seen.
“Having an Olympics on home soil opened up a lot of opportunities for everyone, especially when it came to beach volleyball,” he said.
“I went to Horse Guards Parade twice and one time was to see the men’s final and it was great to see the British public really get behind the sport.
“Beach volleyball has been one of the most popular sports in the last three Olympics, not just the last one in London.
“It is already selling out for Brazil as that is the birth place of beach volleyball and I would love nothing more than to be a part of that.
“Myself and Jake are both very ambitious and we want to be successful on the biggest stage, which for beach volleyball is the Olympics.
“The European Games is a start to this and we head there looking to lay down a marker and showing everyone what we are all about.”
While Gregory discovered the sport though ‘Sporting Giants’, partner Sheaf was somewhat born into it with his mother Mandy having competed on the international stage.
At only 16 Sheaf became the youngest British volleyball athlete to become part of the GB senior squad based at the University of Bath and he also took home the ‘Most Valuable Player in Britain’ award in 2009, 2012 and 2013 voted for by the athletes of the competitive circuit themselves.
But while Gregory was a bit slower to the game, the two have quickly clicked and arrive in Baku as reigning British champions.
“We always knew our partnership was going to be strong from the very beginning,” Gregory added. “Our personalities match up really well which obviously helps in games.
“We both knew that when we started, in the long term we were looking to reach the top as a pair and we are on our way to doing that.
“We are best of friends and close off the court too which helps – it is great that we are heading to Baku together.”
© Sportsbeat 2015