The 27 gold medals with which the UK secured itself second place in the medal table at the Rio 2016 Olympics, ahead of China, surprised many and left a question in the air.
Can money buy Olympic medals?
When British swimmer Adam Peaty crossed the finish line and broke his own record to win gold in the 100 breaststroke in Rio, his victory was a reward for his efforts and talent, but also for his efforts. toThe UK's investment in its athletes.
Despite emerging as a potential star at the age of 14, Beatty initially had to raise money at parties organized by friends and neighbors so he could pay for trips to national competitions.
Until 2012 when he won Scholarship worth £15,000 (US$19,000).While his coach earned a place in the elite training program.
Both scholarships were funded by UK Sport, which It receives two-thirds of its money from the National Lottery.
Two years later, Beattie beat the Olympic champion in the 100m breaststroke final at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow; The first of his many international titles.
In the UK, elite athletes with records like these qualify for an annual scholarship of up to £28,000 (US$36,000), so they can focus on their training.
In addition to funding athletes directly, UK Sport provides funds to government bodies for some sports, such as swimming, So they spend on infrastructure and trainers.
According to official information, the British government was spending about £5 million (US$6,535,000) annually on funding Olympic sports before the 1996 Atlanta Games, a tournament in which the Great Britain team won only one gold medal.
The jump came with Sydney 2000 where 11 times that budget.
The results were seen immediately: the GB Team He won 28 medals and was number 10 in the table.
For the 2012 London Olympics, the team spent £264 million (US$345 million), finishing third in the medal table with 65 medals.
Is this proof enough that money actually wins medals?
“Perhaps the most important evidence is comparison results GB Team Today with those obtained in Atlanta 1996. This was the last Olympic Games before the launch of the National Lottery Fund. The country won the gold medal and finished 36th in the table“says a UK Sports spokesperson.
“As a researcher, I suppose I should always say that correlation does not mean causation,” says Borja Garcia, a professor at Loughborough University.
“So not everything should be attributed to the increase in funding. However, it cannot be denied that this increase has generally led to better results at the Olympic Games,” he adds.
However, Garcia notes this It is not just the quantity, but the way the money is spent that determines this.
“It's not about the amount of money, it's about the way it is concentrated, invested and scrutinized,” he says. “It has given clear results although there are those who think so The method of investing is “brutal”“.
By “brutal” he means that only sports that have proven success and have the potential to medal in the next two Olympics receive this money.
on the contrary, One bad result could mean an overall reduction in allocations for that sport.
What sports are funded?
Before starting each funding cycle, all sports submit to UK Sport a detailed cost strategy and They commit to achieving a certain number of medals In the following Olympic and Paralympic Games.
UK Sport evaluates all strategies and allocates funds prioritizing the best strategies.
“We started with sports that were more focused on winning medals and they didn't falter,” Garcia explains.
“The budget for each sport is annual and its value is determined Based on results He adds: “At important events every year, to determine whether they are still in the running for the next Olympics.”
Rod Carr, director of British Sport, defends this strategy. “In the early 2000s [los gimnastas] They were fairly low key. They didn't do well in Sydney, so Their money was cut off“He tells the programme today On BBC Radio 4.
“So they went back to basics, took their entire program apart, looked at what worked and what didn't work, and built it back up,” he says.
Although the women's volleyball team rose more than 60 places in the rankings to reach the top twenty in the world within four years, He did not win any medals At the 2012 London Games she lostOr finance it. And at the 2016 Rio Olympics they didn't even send a team.
On the other hand, sports such as cycling and rowing still receive funding that helps them remain among the best.
David Forrest, an economist at the University of Liverpool, agrees that increased funding has brought the country more medals. However, he warns against this Funding elite sports will not necessarily keep them at their current level.
“We generally see an increase in medals ahead of the host country, and this increase continues throughout their Olympic Games,” explains the academic.
“Then the results return to the average,” he says.
The problem of cutting rules
Meanwhile, the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport has cut the community sports budget by 5% over the past two years, with priority being given to elite sports. Ensuring the “Olympic Legacy”.
But if you cut the budget in the bud, the entire tree will eventually suffer, Forrest says.
“In the long term, recruiters will see that there are far fewer options for athletes to enter development programs.”
On average, 25% of National Lottery ticket sales are spent on charity 20% goes directly to sports.
Not everything stays in UK sport, as the sports councils in each region of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) also benefit, as they are the ones who fund community sports.
Many of the Rio 2016 athletes thanked the National Lottery for their medals.
“I knew there was no way to fund long-term sports and arts development with state taxes,” John Major, the program's architect, said in 1999. “But the lottery could do it.”
Beyond talent and money: the importance of details
1. Back in bed
BBC Sports Editor Tom Fordyce explains that Britain's success in Rio cannot be attributed solely to increased funding for the sport, but the details need to be taken into account.
Luke Gupta, a PhD student at the Institute of Sport in England, studied the study Sleep quality With the participation of more than 400 elite British athletes.
It analyzed average sleep duration, sleep deprivation and the athletes' perception of their sleep patterns.
The results of their research led to a Improving the “sleeping environment” in boxers' training baseLocated in Sheffield: 37 single beds replaced with 33 double beds and 4 extra-large single beds.
In addition, covers, duvets and pillows made of breathable and quick-drying fabrics were distributed. The idea was to create Hypoallergenic barrier in every room.
“On average, boxers sleep 24 minutes more each night,” says Seoul Olympic medalist Richie Woodhall, who now works as a sports consultant.
“When you add it up over the course of a cycle, that can add up to 29 or 30 days of extra sleep. That can be the difference between winning a medal or getting knocked out in the first round.”
2. From a vulva expert to a ban on shaving pubic hair
On the cycling track, physiotherapist Phil Burt and doctor Richard Freeman realized that the discomfort the saddle caused for women was keeping some athletes away from the national team.
your answer? They initially received advice from a panel of experts, which included: Friction specialists and reconstructive surgeonsvulvar medicine specialist.
Then they prohibited waxing or shaving the pubic hair. In the six months leading up to Rio, no competitor had complained of discomfort in the saddle.
3. Learn to decide when you are exhausted
It wasn't all physical, Fordyce explains, and the Great Britain women's hockey team was an example of that.
And according to Danny Curry, performance director of the team that won gold in Rio, lateral thinking is also key.
“Everyone spends a lot of time studying the physiological effects of hockey, but what we did at the Olympics is we put our players in a state of extreme fatigue and asked them to concentrate and think at the same time,” Kerry said. BBC.
“We call it ‘Thought Thursday’ and the goal is to make it happen Make excellent decisions amid extreme fatigue. “We did that every Thursday for a year.”
4. Veterans are gold
Fordyce points out that on the track, experience and knowledge have been recycled at each Olympics.
Paul Manning was part of the quartet that won bronze in Cycling in Sydney, silver in Athens and gold in Beijing.
When his cycling career ended, he was one of the first graduates of an elite training program. It was a two-year scheme offering a A highway for coaches of high-performance athletes Within the British cycling system.
In Rio, he was in charge of the women's team that won its second gold medal in two Olympics and the junior Laura Trott, who also won gold in her second Olympics.
According to a BBC correspondent, the slogan is: Knowledge developed, knowledge retained.
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