Britain loves its Olympic heroes.
We lapped it up as Dame Kelly Holmes pounded round the track at Athens 2004 on her way to double Olympic gold and we oozed at the sight of Sir Steve Redgrave powering his way to five gold medals.
We love our young stars too; think Rebecca Adlington becoming an instant national treasure with her performances in Beijing three years ago.
So how about a teenager who could well feature at London 2012 and who has represented England since the age of 15?
Rupert Scott, 17, is one of British volleyball’s brightest talents, captaining his country’s Under-15, Under-16 and now the Under-19 sides. Outside of the volleyball world, though, his talents have gone largely unnoticed.
For most Brits, the extent of their volleyball knowledge begins and ends at admiring the talents of several bikini-clad beach-babes as they pat a ball back and forth on their holidays.
For Rupert, this is a major frustration. He says: “It’s a really good sport and people in this country don’t realise it.
“They think of girls in bikinis and messing about on the beach, but volleyball is a lot harder than people think. It is such a physical game and is without doubt the hardest sport I have ever played.”
Though Rupert enjoys the beach version, and was a junior champion at it, he found his calling in traditional indoor volleyball.
It is a high-powered, six-a-side contest, in which, like badminton or tennis, the aim is to ground the ball on the opposition’s side of the court. Each team are permitted to touch the ball up to three times before returning it – though players must not catch or throw the ball.
“It is much quicker and more dynamic than beach volleyball.
“It’s the second most played sport in the world – after football.” He adds.
“Brazil are the best team in the world but it’s really popular in places like Poland, Japan, Italy and Russia. Almost every country has a volleyball team.
“It takes good hand-eye coordination and you need to put some effort in,” he explains. “But I just wish people would give it a try.”
Surprisingly, Staffordshire-born Rupert, who attended Madeley High School in Crewe, only began playing when he was 13-years-old after he went along to his school volleyball club.
He says: “At the end of Year 7 the school started a volleyball team. My sister played for them so I thought I’d give it a go and went along.
“We trained twice a week and after only playing for a year I won a West-Midlands tournament and got into the England Under-15 team.
“I just kept playing and at 16 I was in the England Under-19’s team – which I now captain. There is no team in between, so the jump was quite big.”
He continues: “I was so shocked when I was first called up to play for England that I wasn’t really that nervous. I was so excited I couldn’t get nervous.
“In my first year [for England] we travelled around and played lots of club sides from Germany and Austria but I didn’t make my proper international debut until I was 16 years old and we played Sweden.
“We lost but I really enjoyed it.”
A success story
Rupert has also played for Newcastle Staffs Volleyball Club (NSVC) since he began playing and recently helped them retain the Under-18 championship title for the fourth straight year.
“Four years and four titles,” he smiles. “You can’t get much better than that.
“In fact I would say I get more nervous playing for the club team than England because we’ve been so successful there is such pressure on us to keep winning.”
It was a successful tournament all round for NSVC as they also claimed the Women’s U18’s title, Women’s Shield and were runners-up in the U16 boys tournament.
Volleyball has now become the mainstay of Rupert’s life as he has moved away from home to attend the national academy at Loughborough, where he is studying alongside an intense training schedule.
“I train twice a day every day now and about five or six times each week,” he says. “I go to the gym about twice a week too, lifting weights in order to improve my strength – it’s about 25 hours a week in all.
“I don’t really like getting up at 6.30am every morning and being on court at 7am but it helps me to improve, which leads to winning trophies – and that is what it’s all about really. So it’s worth it for what you get out of it.”
Playing with his brain
Rupert, who stands at 6 foot 3 inches tall, added, without a hint of irony; “I’m quite powerful for my size but I regularly play with really tall guys who are around 6 foot 7. They are really strong but I can hold my own and compete with them.
“I play in the ‘setter’ role,” he continues. “Which I describe to people who don’t know volleyball, as the quarter-back in American football terms. I am basically the brains of the team and it is my responsibility to put the ball up for the big guys and give the ‘hitters’ the best possible opportunity to score.
“I am not the quickest or the strongest but I can be just as effective by using my brain.
“Ricardinho is my idol in that position. He played for Brazil and is the greatest setter of all time.”
In fact, Rupert has just linked up with Brazilian coach Rogerio Ponticelli at Loughborough, who has had a positive impact on the team.
“He teaches us to play the Brazilian way; with a smile on your face and to have fun with the game, like the Brazil football team.
“The Brazil volleyball team are amazing too; they are so far ahead of everyone else.”
Rupert hopes to be facing up to those Brazilians come the 2016 Olympic Games – which, rather ominously, will be held in the Brazilian capital of Rio de Janeiro.
He hasn’t given up on featuring in London in just over a year’s time though, he says: “My next big ambition is to get into the Great Britain squad.
“The GB coach has been to watch me play recently and I still believe there is an outside chance. It’s only really my age and lack of experience that counts against me.
“If I continue developing at this rate then nothing can stop me and I know I can make it.”
He does, however, worry that UK Sport budget cuts could scupper his 2016 dream.
He explains: “The Olympics is my ultimate dream but the funding has been a problem. We have had cuts from the London 2012 budget and I worry that if we lose it all together then there won’t be a team at the 2016 games.”
Rupert is certainly not afraid of a challenge and, not to be perturbed, he has big ideas for his future.
“All I can do is keep going,” he says. “The funding could stop me but if it does then I’ll concentrate on a pro career.
“Abroad they play at such a good level, they hit it so much faster and the intensity is really strong. It was overwhelming at first but I'm fine with it now, I enjoy it. So I would definitely like to move abroad to play.
“I want to go to Holland, which has one of the weaker professional leagues. I want to start there and get some experience before hopefully moving to Italy or one of the stronger European countries where I can make a professional career.
“I’ve already had the experience of leaving home. It was strange at first but without your parents to rely on, you have to work harder.
“I have to rely on myself and that works best for me.”
His determination to succeed matches his talent and though London 2012 may come too soon, you might care to remember the name Rupert Scott – future Olympic hero?