Peter Williams: Britain is now a bona fide Olympic powerhouse


If New Zealand fans are feeling a trifle underwhelmed by the medal return halfway through the Rio Olympics, then British fans can only be ecstatic.

ONE News Presenter and columnist Peter Williams.

Source: 1 NEWS

As I write this Great Britain, after Andy Murray's win at the tennis, is second on the medal table with 15 golds, and 37 all up.

But the turnaround in British Olympic fortunes in the last 20 years is one of the more extraordinary stories of the recent Olympic era.

The country should have always been a powerhouse. After all, it is essentially the birthplace of sport.

Apart from giving the world football, cricket, cycling, boxing, tennis, badminton and many athletic disciplines, the multi-sport Wenlock Games in Shropshire provided Pierre de Coubertin with the inspiration for the modern Olympic Games which he started in 1896.

Britain has had a team at every Olympics, but only 20 years ago, the performances of British athletes could only be described as woeful.

In Atlanta in 1996, Britain sent 300 competitors. Between them they won exactly one gold medal – Steven Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent in the rowing pair.

Thanks to Danyon Loader and Blyth Tait, New Zealand won three golds that year.

Twenty years before that in Montreal, there were only three British golds. New Zealand, through John Walker and the hockey team, won two.

In 1984, New Zealand's gold medal tally of eight was actually three higher than Britain's.

So up till just two decades ago, the land of warm beer and mushy peas was the sick child of Olympic sport while the USA and eastern Europe battled it out for dominance on the medal table.

But the 1996 debacle was a wake-up call.

Extra resources paid almost immediate dividends

Within months of the Atlanta games, Sebastian Coe – then a Tory MP - used his political contacts and sporting reputation to convince the Minister of Sport Iain Sproat to disestablish the old mass participation focused Sports Council and set up UK Sport to concentrate just on high performance in a select number of sports.

UK Sport was then authorised to distribute profits from the National Lottery and more full time coaches, sports scientists, nutritionists, trainers and other back room personnel were hired to improve the performance of British Olympic athletes.

The extra resources paid almost immediate dividends. Britain's golden haul at the Sydney games in 2000 was up to 11 and there were 9 in 2004.

But the awarding of the 2012 Olympics to London ramped things up even more.

With such a huge investment in the games, the British government and sporting authorities were determined that local athletes would make a good showing.

By this time the English Institute of Sport had been established in Manchester and more and more athletes were becoming full time in centralised training facilities.

So in Beijing there were 19 golds from the now named Team GB, before a staggering 29 at the London games themselves.

But success at your home games is always so difficult to follow up.

Look what happened to Australia. After 16 golds in Sydney in 2000, that had halved by 2012.

So here in Rio, the question was would Britain be able to maintain the momentum of London four years ago?

Well, the answer is a most emphatic yes.

With nine of sixteen competition days almost completed, British athletes have won golds across eight sports, and silver and bronze across a further four more.

And with the bulk of the track and field to come, along with boxing, canoeing and sailing – sports where GB won medals in 2012 – who's to say the final tally won't be up with four years ago.

Britain is now a bona fide Olympic powerhouse.

Justin Rose of Great Britain, wins the gold medal during the final round of the men's golf.

Justin Rose of Great Britain, wins the gold medal during the final round of the men's golf.

Source: Associated Press

Already Sir Bradley Wiggins has won a gold medal at these games.

After today, what chance of Sir Justin Rose and – surely this is a dead cert – Sir Andrew Murray.

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