It’s felt like an absolute age since an enthralling Olympic games in Rio drew to a close, but it’s easy to forget that it’s only been a couple of days.
This short period has given us a chance to collectively catch our breath and reflect on Team GB’s best ever performance at an overseas games, bagging a whopping 27 gold medals.
A medal haul so good in fact that we beat China to second place, a country who have 20 times the population of this small island.
UK Sport chief executive Liz Nicholls declared that we are now a sporting ‘superpower’ and it’s difficult to argue with her, but this didn’t happen overnight.
Only two decades ago we finished Atlanta ’96 in 36th place, slap bang between well known Olympic ‘heavyweights’ Belarus and Kenya, with only one gold medal to our name.
This embarrassment led to the biggest sporting reform of our time and changed the way this country prepared for the Olympics forever.
After the shocking performance in Atlanta two decades ago, the UK’s then Prime Minister John Major pledged that this dismal showing would never happen again. But how?
By launching the National Lottery.
Major assured that a lot of this lottery money would go towards funding UK Sport, the body that distributes cash to support various Olympic teams and athletes.
In the first year, £5 million went towards funding British Olympics, something which has steadily increased to a point where, in the four-year cycle finishing with the Rio Olympics, UK Sport spent an eye-watering £274m.
But it’s not all about throwing a shed load of money at it. The funding structure is brutal to say the least and completely dependent on results.
If specific sports don’t deliver on their medal predictions made before the games, their funding is cut. End of.
The likes of wrestling, table tennis, volleyball and swimming all had their funding reduced or cut altogether as a result of below-par performances in the London 2012 games, and several sports will receive a similar fate after the dust settles from Rio.
Swimming proved to be the only sport to not let reduced funding ruin their medal prospects, winning six medals in total, but it ultimately proves that money talks.
On average, each medal has cost £5.5m, and with the gold medal being barely worth £500, many have questioned if it was all worth it – just for the sake of national pride.
However, I’m sure many athletes who dedicate their lives to this ultimate goal and train insane hours day in, day out to achieve it would very much say it’s worth all the blood, sweat and tears (and investment, of course).
Ultimately, it’s a labour of love from these athletes. We have to remember that unlike their U.S. counterparts they do not receive any cash bonus for winning a medal.
While you might think that cash incentives will push athletes to try a little harder, not everyone agrees and former Olympic swimmer Geoff Huegill says cash rewards don’t actually work.
A cash bonus for a medal is great and always appreciated by athletes but it’s not the sole focus, rather a nice way to be acknowledged for the efforts you have put into your chosen discipline.
The biggest example of this is of six-time Olympic Champion Jason Kenny. The Independent reports that he only collects £28,000 tax free in UK Sport means-tested funding because he only has a few sponsors.
The lottery money is more focused on the science of winning and making each sport more effective, it doesn’t pay their rent.
In a nutshell, these athletes clearly do it because they love it and that’s why that, partnered with hard work and dedication, means they can become so successful.