It is a story which relates to myriad athletes the world over. An undoubtedly talented individual who achieved great success at a youth level, steps up to the senior ranks and falls by the wayside. All around them other athletes are handed funding and sponsorship, while they balance work and training, giving every ounce of their body to chase the dream of someday making it.
This could be one of thousands of athletes, but in this instance, it is James Ellington, a British 100 and 200 metre sprinter. The Lewisham-born Ellington was a highly regarded prospect during his teenage years, but soon found the same system which nurtured him as a youth, quickly forgot him in favour of guys he was routinely beating.
“Obviously it's difficult not to feel hard done by, but I've just had to carry on training and doing what I'm doing,” states Ellington.
“It's hard because I was beating some of these people and I knew they were getting shed loads of money being thrown at them through sponsorship.
“There are a lot of selfish athletes out there, I wouldn't say I was one of them, but there was a situation where there was a guy who hadn't beaten me for five years and had four different sponsors. I could have easily contacted his sponsor and said he hasn't beaten me for five years, what's going on?”
After years of unsuccessfully writing to sponsors, urging them to take a chance on him, Ellington managed to drum up more publicity for himself in ten days than he could have in two years of PR.
“I sat down with a friend of the family who has a PR company and we were going through so many ideas on how to get sponsorship,” recounts Ellington.
“I'd already gone down the traditional route of sending letters and emails and getting no reply, so I said I'll end up having to sell myself on eBay and it sort of sparked everything off from there.”
Ellington's throw-away comment turned into something bigger than even he had imagined, and the 26 year-old decided to auction himself on the online marketplace. When the auction closed in the middle of December, he had seen bids in excess of the ￡30,000 reserve he had set.
After hearing the crushing news that the top bid of ￡32,500 was a hoax, Ellington was offered salvation in the form of King of Shaves found Will King.
“At the beginning of the campaign he messaged me on Twitter saying to contact him if it flops. He's a man of his word, because once we found out the top bid was a hoax we messaged him and he said not a problem.”
That show of faith by Will King opened the flood gates and now Ellington has a number of deals under his belt, including the likes of Go Coco, as he looks to fund warm weather training camps, and harness the expertise of a proper nutritionist.
For Ellington, while the most important thing was to ensure that he had the financial support to focus on training full-time, the allure of the London Olympics offers an added incentive for the born-and-bred Londoner.
However, as he admits, had he not been handed the financial lifeline, Ellington would have carried on chasing his dream.
“If I hadn't got a sponsorship deal, I'd have just carried on. Last year I made the team for the world championships through working part-time and training part-time.
“That gave me more hunger for this year. I thought to myself that if I can get sponsorship, then it's a bonus, and if I don't then people will definitely know about me come the Olympics, because I'm going to go there [the Olympics] and embarrass everyone.”
Ellington's plight was not unnoticed. The shockwaves of his stunt reverberated around the world, inspiring other struggling hopefuls to embark on similar campaigns.
When told the story about Israeli marksman Sergey Richter offering lessons in rifle shooting in order to fund his own Olympic dream, Ellington laughs.
“That's nuts,” he says. “I'd heard about an American athlete who was selling the rights to a fake tattoo on his arm. There's loads of quirky ideas to come out of this and I feel like I'm the pioneer, the underdog spokesman.”
Ellington is no longer the underdog now, and as he completes his warm-weather training camp in Florida, his eyes are firmly on making his own unique mark at the Olympic Games.
“When I was a kid growing up I never thought I'd have the opportunity to be competing in an Olympics in my home country,” he proudly says.
“When else are you going to have the chance to compete in a home Olympics? Especially when you know how much work you've put in over the years, how much disappointment you've had and how many people have told you to give up, it'll make it that much sweeter.”