By Pritha Sarkar
LONDON (Reuters) - Their own federation barred them from the Olympics and denied them any funding but Britain's rhythmic gymnasts were smiling defiantly on Friday after jumping through hoops, literally, to make their debut at the London Games.
So what if they finished last among 12 nations in qualifying. That was only a footnote in the tale where they had to appeal British Gymnastics' decision to compete and had to raise money for training through raffles and sponsored skips.
While all other British Olympians have been supported by national funding, the rhythmic gymnasts were unceremoniously cast aside and had to scrape together every penny themselves.
Olympic champions such as Amy Williams and Jason Gardener were so moved by their cash-strapped plight, they even chipped in by donating signed kits for the raffles.
On Friday, Lynne Hutchison and Rachel Smith were among the team that, as British Gymnastics had predicted, finished last with their ribbons and hoops display but the scoreline showed that they had made major leaps in the right direction.
"We definitely deserve to be here and we proved that by coming that close to (11th-placed) Canada," Hutchison told reporters still dressed in her shimmering purple and green-sequined outfit.
"The difference was nothing. We weren't expected to beat anyone here and to come that close and beat them shows that we can compete with Olympic countries."
Smith added: "At the end of the day being 0.025 behind the country ahead of us and only one mark behind Germany shows we are credible to be here. 0.025 is practically nothing and it's amazing what we've achieved."
Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean were given the task of mentoring the team and the 1984 Sarajevo Games ice dance champions had some input in their choreography before the infamous London test event in January, when their federation deemed they had not met Olympic qualification standards.
On Friday, Smith said: "They (Torvill and Dean) tweeted us and sent us a nice message saying how much we deserved to be here. It was really nice to hear that from them and know that they were watching us."
Hutchison hoped by having come so close to not coming last at Wembley Arena will earn the sport the vital funding it needs to move forward.
"Today shows what we could have done if we were given the same amount of support (and practice facilities) the other teams have been given," she said.
"We've definitely shown Great Britain what rhythmic gymnastics is, that we can fight to be up with the top teams. If something is put into this sport after this Olympics then hopefully in future Olympics we can be fighting with the top countries."
(Editing by Alison Williams)
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