I am in England at the moment. This is the first time I have been here during an Olympic Games since the Sydney Games in 2000.
When I left for Australia in 2002, Sport England’s World Class Potential and World Class Start programs were in their infancy. The sport system was trying to come to terms with the changes that were occurring as state sponsored athletes and coaches were transforming the performance landscape. A new generation of Performance Directors were accepting responsibility for long-term athlete pathways focussed on Olympic success.
Fourteen years on, it has been fascinating to observe how these changes have been embedded in people’s consciousness. Daily news items about Team GB’s successes are discussed on national and local television.
Just how pervasive this consciousness is was brought home to me during my stay in Bath. I sat in a cafe and heard a couple at the next table discussing the intricacies of Bryony Page’s trampoline routine that won a silver medal. In a queue for a bus, I overheard a group of people talking about Laurine van Riessen’s bike handling skills at the velodrome. Both were informed, interested exchanges.
Amidst the excitement of Team GB’s performance, there have been three experiences that have stood out for me in the first week. Before I mention these, I do want to pay my respects to the ways in which athletes talk about their performances and their humility about their successes. Throughout the first week I sense that the Team GB ethos has been very powerful. A system that was naive in 2002 is now a highly sophisticated, successful culture.
My three experiences of delight:
- Joe Clarke‘s gold medal run in the K1 canoe slalom class.
- The GB swim team‘s competitiveness and the emergence of their relay success.
- Max Whitlock‘s two individual gymnastic gold medals (floor and pommel).
Each of these has a personal resonance for me and I hope to write about each of them in a subsequent post.
This has been a most surprising week. It is very different to my experience of Olympic coverage and conversation in Australia.
I am hopeful that my professional stranger place in British sporting culture will sharpen my focus about performance environments.
I have had just one recurring angst in this first week. Many of the programs that have been successful express relief that they might receive funding for the Tokyo cycle to 2020. It must be very disconcerting to be a less successful program (defined by medals) in a vibrant Team GB. But this is another conversation.