(Image courtesy of; https://inews.co.uk/essentials/sport/olympics/rio-2016-team-gbs-67-olympic-medalists-full/)
What a difference 20 years makes. From the meagre pickings of Atlanta – where Knights of the Realm Redgrave and Pinsent brought home our only gold – to the unprecedented success of Rio, British Olympic sport has made quite a remarkable transformation. In a sullied age of cynicism and doping scandal, it’s easy to suggest – as a number of outclassed and nonplussed rival cyclists did – that something suspicious was afoot. For those not quite so willing to court controversy, it was easy to dismiss Britain’s success as bought. To some, we were the Olympic equivalent of Manchester City.
To others, there was the question of whether it was all worth it. To them, we were the new Soviet Union, using Olympic success as a proxy for political point-scoring, masking dissatisfaction at home with triumph abroad.
However, none of these quite ring true. Yes, National Lottery funding has increased, and that has made a huge difference, but there is more behind the success than money alone. Olympic fever has
well and truly taken the people of Britain, and that extends to the sporting community. The kit that the British cyclists wore in London was withdrawn for four years – events such as the World Championships were seen as not important enough to warrant the shiny Lycra coming out, but the Olympics are a different matter. They are special, says UK Sport, and this has created a cult of glitz and glamour surrounding the Olympics which undoubtedly translates to the athletes.
Furthermore, there is a togetherness to Team GB that the name suggests, but that other nations are devoid of. Multi-millionaire golfer Justin Rose swapped his five-star existence for a narrow single bed in Rio, and was an ever-present influence in the village, gifting the ball with which he struck his hole-in-one to the young gymnast, Nile Wilson. Every single item of kit – from taekwondo to table tennis – has the Team GB logo and the Union Jack emblazoned upon it. Every athlete is given a podium jacket at the start of the games, to wear should they win a medal.
All of this has created a culture of excellence in British sport that should be celebrated, not eyed with suspicion. The fact that yet more well-targeted Lottery funding is in place for the run-up to Tokyo means that yet more talented youngsters – from an increasingly diverse range of backgrounds and in an increasingly diverse range of sports – will have the chance to fulfil their potential. For those of us old enough to remember 1996, that is indeed something to celebrate.