I have been overwhelmed by the performance of Team GB at the London 2012 Games.
Twelve years ago I watched the Sydney Games from my home in rural North Wales. This month I watched the London Games from rural New South Wales.
It has been fascinating to reflect on Olympic performance journeys from Sydney to London.
My sense in 2000 was that Australia had provided a model for the rest of the world in hosting an Olympic Games and for enhancing ethically athlete performance. I was conscious too that my colleagues in the United Kingdom were eager to learn about the Australian success story.
In 2000 the UK was building an elite sport system and exploring how to accelerate progress. I do think Australians made a significant contribution to these early developments. I was fortunate at the time to be one of Sport England’s World Class Experts and I sat in on a number of the reviews of Olympic performance in Sydney.
My move to Australia in 2002 gave me a close up look at the Australian system. I was in awe of the system that had been established, particularly in the institutes and academies of sport. I did wonder if a system that was so successful in Sydney could sustain the momentum created by a home Olympics.
I was acutely aware that a world system of sport expertise stimulated by Sydney was a ‘threat’ to continuing Australian Olympic success. Just as Australia  had recruited world leading coaches, it was certain that other nations would do so too. The award of the Games to London in 2005 hastened this process.
In the last twelve years, Great Britain has moved from winning 28 medals (including 11 gold medals) in Sydney, to 31 medals (9 gold) in Athens, to 47 in Beijing (19 golds) and 65 medals (29 golds) in London.
Part of my overwhelming experience has been that Great Britain won more gold medals in London than the total medals won in Sydney.
In London, Great Britain won medals in 19 sports and gold medals in 13 of these. Great Britain won 8 cycling gold medals, 4 athletics and 4 rowing.

In London, Australia won medals in 13 sports and gold medals in 5 of them. The most successful gold medal winning sport was sailing (3 gold medals).
In the last 12 years a comparison of total medals won by Great Britain and Australia:

Gold medals in the same period:

It will be fascinating to see what happens in Rio in 2016. Just as in Sydney in 2000, Great Britain has set a standard in 2012.
This has been China’s pattern over three Olympic cycles:



  1. I think we were a little overwhelmed here in the UK as well!
    I think there are two aspects to Home Advantage there’s the physical advantage of having lots and lots of supporters cheering for you. But to be fair quite a few national papers in other countries acknowledge that almost every supporter was cheered; except, surprise, surprise the French!
    I think there’s also the mental pressure which comes from a “mustn’t let the home side down – lets give it one more push” clearly some athletes thrived on this (Jessica Ennis comes to mind) and some didn’t (several of our swimmers come to mind).
    Clearly money buys medals and setting up the English Institute of Sport, in Sheffield, owes much to your AIS. But although Prime Minster Cameron has promised continued funding for elite sport, the *actual* level is not clear. See this story for the impact that the loss of funding has had on Volleyball
    There are already questions being asked about our swimming. Now that may also be a question of money – in the whole of the South East of England there are just 2 50 metre pools (Crawley and Aldershot). Consequently we do well in Short Course events but pull up short in Long Course events.
    Unfortunately we must wait another 4 years to fully understand the full Home Advantage. Isee there are some stats doing the rounds that suggest the total of Commonwealth medals exceeds that of the USA. I wonder what the former USSR would have achieved?

    • Gordon
      Thanks for writing and for the link.
      I am thinking that the effect of London will hold for the next Olympic cycle with a reduction in the number of sports in which medals are won.
      I was involved in some of the early conversations about the EIS and the debate about a central daily training environment.
      Swimming is an interesting issue for GB. The program has been led by Australians for the whole of the last cycle. There is going to be a review of Australian swimming.
      I imagine a number of GB sports will have difficulties sustaining the momentum when they have to qualify for the next Games. It will be interesting to see how basketball does, for example.
      Thanks again for writing I really enjoy your insights into performance.
      Best wishes

  2. some aspects of sports have also become trials between national and international governing bodies. Here in GB we’re heartly sick of the French dominated UCI wanting (in our view) to re-write the rules to try and ensure that the GB (Olympic) medals haul is reduced. Of course we tend to revert to type and find another way! You might like the following contribution from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers:
    and that the IME has a role to play would suggest your observation is spot on, where we’re already good we’ll continue to develop (er spend more money) and where its all about the taking par, you’ll be on your own. Thus winning gold in obscure sports might just come down to the doggeded determination of a handful of individuals who have to organise their own sponsorship. I’m thinking particularly of Peter Wilson:
    and the sort of funding cut faced by Peter may well face some of our swimmers – I wonder just how many will quietly give up and go off to become PE Teachers cmpared with those who will apply that dogged determination (and their parents) to get up at 5am to go off for 90 minutes training in a local pool morning after morning?

    • Gordon
      Thank you for sharing the links and your observations. I spent part of today talking with a talented young track cyclist who is planning to dedicate the next three years to get to Rio … he is without funding at the moment but has the potential.
      We talked about the T word (access to Technology) as part of his plans.
      I think the individualism you mention does produce gold medals … it is getting harder to do so.

  3. Yes, Lottery funding; I do think it allows some athletes to treat their sport more as a hobby rather than a vocation, in the hope of celebrity status (and earnings) at the end of the road? Which seems the route that many young males take via professional football and which has drawn much negative comment on their lifestyle choices compared with the GB Womens team who achieved more than the men. (I recall from The Conversation the reporting of different travel arrangements for male and female Basketball players)
    May be your young cyclist needs to find a small engineering company who can help him on his way by ‘The Aggregation of Marginal Gains’ so that both he and they benefit? (The quote is Dave Brailsford of course!)

  4. The other thing hanging around in the background is nationism – none of the Home Nations (England, Wales, Scotland and NI) wanted a Team GB for football; most certainly not for 2016 – so the Women loose out on any gains they made in London. This will likely affact other teams sports such as Volleyball and Basketball.
    Cycling is different, the national govening body is Cycling GB – there are no Home Nation national cycling bodies; also they race around the world as TeamSky. A point that several TV Reporters notably Hugh Porter got themselves tongue-tied over!

  5. Keith
    A very interesting read. I wonder what the graph depicts for Australia leading into the Sydney games (two cycles prior) and whether it reflects a similar trend to The London graph leading into 2012. The trend leading into a home games and the financial backing received by sports during the same time would also be an interesting correlation.


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