Changing China

Giant on the move

Have the British peaked too soon?

August 20, 2008

A British feeding poleThere was a joke going around the Olympics (until yesterday evening) about how none of Britain’s gold medals had been won by people standing up. Perfect for the British, no? We do like a nice sit down and a cup of tea after all.

Christine Ohuruogu ended that odd little sequence when she followed the sailors, swimmers, cyclists and rowers on to the podium to collect her gold for the women’s 400 metres.

Britain’s tally of 16 golds is their best since 1908 and puts them third in the medals table (as you’ll see if you glance to the right) ahead of the likes of Russia, Australia and Germany.

Kate Holton takes a look here at Britain’s Olympic renaissance, following the embarrassment of winning just one gold medal in Atlanta in 1996. Money has had a lot to do with it, with so many athletes now benefiting from National Lottery funding, but it has created a potential problem heading into the 2012 London Games.

Britain’s target for their home Games was always going to be fourth place in the medals table. In the wake of Beijing, and assuming they hang on to third, that would be a real anticlimax.

Just as The Times is speaking about a funding crisis, the British will now be faced with diverting a fair chunk of the Lottery money to sports in which they have no realistic chance of a medal — simply to avoid humiliation. As hosts, Britain will be automatically entered into all team events, which means fielding teams in sports like handball, water polo and others where there is not a great tradition in the country. Thank goodness softball and baseball won’t be there.

But with any luck the Beijing gold rush — or the Great Haul of China, as the British have it — will inspire the country to exceed expectations once again in London. Obviously second place is out of the question, but holding on to third, and finishing ahead of Australia especially, should offer mighty levels of motivation.

Can they do it?

PHOTO: A woman from the British team, with a pole used for giving drinks to the swimmers, dips her toes in the water during the women’s marathon 10km swimming competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, August 20, 2008. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside


Enjoy it while it lasts. The Aussies and Chinese will be chucking money at cycling to try and catch up in four years time.

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