One week ago, the British media was panicking over Team GB’s distinct lack of gold medals. Some of the world’s media, namely Australia’s, could not help themselves but poke fun at the ‘Poms’. ‘Here’s the medal league table, and look at the Poms – lower than Kazakhstan!’ chuckled one sports reporter. Who’s laughing now?
What a difference seven days make. At the time of writing, Team GB proudly stand in third place in the medals table behind USA and China with 22 gold medals, eclipsing Beijing 2008’s record haul of 19 golds. Fourth placed South Korea trail the Brits by 10 golds, and with only five days of competition remaining, third position is all but secured. An excellent achievement which the media are basking in. Team GB exceeded all expectations at the 2008 Olympics which, in turn, set a very high bar for 2012. The British, though, have risen to the challenge, exceeding the bar and records have tumbled. Yesterday, Sir Chris Hoy became the most decorated British Olympian ever with six gold medals. Upon achieving this feat, Hoy was congratulated by the man who he had surpassed in the history books – Sir Steve Redgrave.
Hats off to Team GB – very well done. We should, and will, savour the glory of the London 2012 Games but at the same time we should also acknowledge that this is a home Olympics. Generally speaking, the home nations always do well. Much of Team GB’s success is attributable to national lottery funding (launched in 1994) where over £264m has been invested in 27 different Olympic sports in the last four years, aiding British athletes to perform to their potential at London 2012.
12 of Team GB’s 22 golds have come in rowing and cycling – the two best-funded sports – with athletics a close third. Sailing and canoeing have also been well supported. At the time of writing, these respective sports have yielded 31 of Team GB’s overall 48 Olympic medals. At the bottom of the wealth distribution table is shooting, wrestling and weightlifting which have returned just one medal, albeit a gold. Furthermore, the current financial backing enjoyed by Jessica Ennis et al, is far cry from the support that athletes received prior to the 1996 Atlanta Games. By contrast, Clova Court, Britain’s number one heptathlete in the early 1990s had no lottery funding and worked at a petrol station to make ends meet. Between work, she would squeeze in five hours of training a day.
Funding aside, what has been both impressive and surprising, is the almost Australian-like attitude adopted by the British athletes at these Games. Some athletes being interviewed after finishing with silver or bronze medals have inexplicably apologised for letting their country down. To my mind, no apologies are necessary for near misses but you have to marvel at how fiercely driven these competitors are. Take the Team GB captain, Dai Greene, as an example. The reigning 400m hurdle world champion narrowly missed out on a medal, finishing fourth. Understandably, he was down in the dumps afterwards but his performance should not be viewed as one of failure but rather commended for an athlete who gave it his all. Unfortunately on the day he was outshone by his rivals, who were simply too good.
By contrast, look at Phillips Idowu, who has somewhat tarnished Team GB’s golden image at the London Games. Clearly injured, he had not jumped competitively for two months leading up to the Olympics and in fact had only jumped three times since the turn of the year. However, an Olympic silver medal in 2008 and being crowned world champion the following year resulted in special dispensation to make the squad. He then rewarded Team GB’s loyalty by missing the pre-Games training camp in Portugal and then went AWOL for the last two weeks resulting in a verbal backlash from head of athletics, Charles van Commenee. In yesterday’s triple jump qualifying round, Idowu’s poor performance results in no appearance in the final, let alone a place on the podium. He did apologise to the fans for not delivering a medal but there were no attempts of justifying his earlier behaviour.
There will be those who sympathise with Idowu. They will argue that the Hackney-born athlete should have been allowed to perform. After all, this is his home Olympics, held in his home town and anything could have happened. I oppose this view. How about promoting a junior to take his place who would also have been jumping in his home Olympics too? That said, the buck stops with van Commenee as he decided to persevere with Idowu (also Team GB Olympics poster-boy). After Super Saturday resulted in three gold medals in track and field, van Commenee became flavour of the month, but only a bronze and silver have been added since taking the overall tally to five. If no medals are added to this total, the Dutchman may just his decision-making under close scrutiny.
Categories: Olympics 2012