The United Kingdom's unprecedented feat at the 2016 Rio Olympics--winning more medals  in the event following the one they hosted [65 at London 2012]--has not gone unnoticed. Far more populous China is contemptous, having been beaten into second place overall going by gold medals won. Near-neighbor and constant reference point France [in 7th place] regards the UK's performance with a mixture of disdain and envy (as usual). But what are factors went into it beating more populous competitors with presumably more talent to draw on and cash to spend--especially freed of democratic constraints on public expenditures like China and Russia?
1. The establishment of a national lottery to funnel cash to sports programs, whose funding has greatly increased as a result in the new millennium -
Former UK Prime Minister John Major is little remembered outside of the UK since he served between two much more globally-recognized figures: Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. However, his government's decision to launch the National Lottery right before Blair's New Labour era came into power may have set up the UK's run of successes at the Olympics.
Reportedly, the UK government spent just £5m per year funding Olympic sport before the 1996 Atlanta games. But UK Sport spent £54m on elite sports in the run-up to the Sydney games in 2000 - where Team GB won 28 medals and ranked 10th. By the time of London 2012 it was spending £264m, and Team GB came third in the medal table, with 65 medals.2. Selectivity is funding sports programs -
It is, yes, performance-based funding. In the absence of a prevailing record, they went on forecasts targeting the overall medal haul (which the Chinese have practiced, of course):
Before the beginning of each funding cycle, all sports present to UK Sport a detailed, costed strategy and agree a range of medals which they will aim to achieve at the following Olympic or Paralympic Games. UK Sport scrutinises all the strategies and allocates funding on a "top-down basis". As a spokesperson puts it: "We start with the sports which are targeting the most medals and work downwards i.e. we do not 'salami slice' funding and give some to every sport." The level of funding in each sport is assessed annually and benchmarked against results at milestone target events in each year, to determine whether they are on track for the next Games.3.Attention to detail -
Those working with the athletes sweat the details that may lend the Brits an advantage come competition time. Three examples are given:
In the build-up to these Olympics, a PhD student at the English Institute of Sport named Luke Gupta examined the sleep quality of more than 400 elite GB athletes, looking at the duration of their average sleep, issues around deprivation and then individual athletes' perception of their sleep quality. His findings resulted in an upgrading of the 'sleep environment' in the Team GB boxing training base in Sheffield - 37 single beds replaced by 33 double and four extra-long singles; sheets, duvets and pillows switched to breathable, quick drying fabrics; materials selected to create a hypo-allergenic barrier to allergens in each bedroom.So it's not just about the money. Although it undoubtedly helps, it needs to be spent in a way that maximizes medal chances based on realistic projections and delivering on real-world results if further funding is to be received. Plus, there is much attention paid to things which may give athletes a competitive advantage from suggestions from coaches and players to applying sports research. Actually, the GBP 4M per Olympic medal looks more affordable if divided per capita per year, upon which the tab comes to £1.09.
In track cycling, GB physio Phil Burt and team doctor Richard Freeman realised saddle sores were keeping some female riders out of training. Their response? To bring together a panel of experts - friction specialist, reconstructive surgeons, a consultant in vulval health - to advise on the waxing and shaving of pubic hair. In the six months before Rio not a single rider complained of saddle sores.
Then there is the lateral thinking of Danny Kerry, performance director to the Great Britain women's hockey team that won gold in such spectacular fashion on Friday. "Everyone puts a lot of time into the physiological effects of hockey, but what we've done in this Olympic cycle is put our players in an extremely fatigued state, and then ask them to think very hard at the same time," Kerry told BBC Sport. "We call that Thinking Thursday - forcing them to consistently make excellent decisions under that fatigue. We've done that every Thursday for a year."
Let Team GB show us the way in cost-effective sporting expenditures which burnish national pride..