Most Olympic hopefuls can rest assured that if they narrowly miss out on qualifying, their next opportunity is just four years away.
But for athletes in sports that fall outside the Games mainstream, the agonizing interim can be much longer—in Alana Snow’s case, nearly a decade.
Team GB announcements are flooding in fast these days, with many more Tokyo-bound athletes to be named over the next few weeks. In 2019, Snow and her GB softball teammates were one win away from joining them on the plane to Japan but fell to Italy at the last, gut-wrenching hurdle.
With softball off the agenda for Paris, the five-run loss set the clock ticking on a qualifying window that likely won’t open again until just before the LA 2028 Games, where the sport is likely—but not guaranteed to be—back on the programme.
Snow, the daughter of Olympic high jumper Cindy Gilbert, is dreaming of the day she can reverse the damage that left her sobbing into her brother’s shirt.
“No one ever thought we were even going to get close, but we had known for years that we were going to be runners for it,” said the Woking native, who is competing with UCLA this week in the Women’s College World Series, a juggernaut event that routinely draws more than a million viewers each year.
“I think that was cool. I think it was cool to be the underdog. I think it was cool to be sneaky in that way, because [people thought] there was no shot, but we were so convicted.
“We were all gutted when we lost. I have a very distinct memory of crying after the game, and my brother is hugging me and he’s crying, and he said something to me that really stuck with me and has stuck with me.
“It was ‘don’t let this keep you from dreaming.’ It was very embodying. This had been something I’d been dreaming about for my whole life.
“I got to chase it until literally a game away, and not many people can have a dream for their whole life and actually just be lucky enough that things go in the right direction.”
Things are looking brighter for the 13th-ranked squad in the world, who recently received a boost toward their 2028 campaign with a £288,750 award from UK Sport—the programme’s largest direct cash infusion in 15 years.
And Snow, who was 20 at the time of the devastating loss, hopes she’ll have a chance to make the squad gunning for the Games in her adopted American hometown.
The funding, said the outfielder, is more than just a boon to the bank account—it’s a vote of confidence in a group of ‘sisters’ that would travel hours across the country just to be together, and who now train virtually via video and WhatsApp from all corners of the globe.
Snow’s coaches will be able to invest in crucial technology to keep them competitive with the world’s top sides while training remotely—in another unique niche sport challenge, most of the team is scattered across North America, even making in-person meetings there a logistical and financial challenge.
The expensive tools, commonly used by competitors, will allow UK-based head coach Rachael Watkeys, who has been relying mostly on video, to track advanced analytics on everything from spin rotation to swings, ball movement and power.
Snow said: “I was so excited when I saw that email from Rachael.
“I felt proud of everyone involved trying to show England that we were a programme worth supporting and being involved in, and that what we were doing was amazing, that we were actually good, and that we could do really well.
“We were inches from the Olympics. It felt almost like they were betting on us. Like, hey, we see you.”