London – Team GB’s hopes of improving their medal haul from the Rio Games in Tokyo should be tempered due to the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, British Olympic Association chairman Hugh Robertson has told AFP.
In 2016, Team GB trailed only the United States with 67 medals, including 27 golds. It was Britain’s best total in a century and followed a pattern of rising gains since the nadir of just one gold at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Britain invests heavily in Olympic success, mainly funded by the National Lottery. Prior to the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics last year a total of £345 million ($489 million) had been invested in 31 Olympic and Paralympic sports, £2 million less than the record £347 million allocated for the Rio Games.
As a result, the U.K. Sport body had set Team GB a target of winning between 51 and 85 Olympic medals, and 115-162 Paralympic medals in Tokyo.
Robertson, though, says those targets no longer hold after a year of disruption to training regimens and competition.
“Rather than think about beating the Rio total we have to be realistic about prospects for Tokyo,” Robertson said in an interview.
“It is primarily a triumph for Tokyo to be staging these games and in us getting athletes safe and secure to the start line.
“It (the competition) will be much more unpredictable than previous games as the athletes have not had a normal competition run-in.
“Alongside other National Olympic Committees around the world we are expecting some unpredictable results.”
He said the pandemic had been a transformative experience for all the athletes in their respective sports.
“It has altered everything,” he said. “The rowers said while the country is opening up, we are locking down!”
Robertson said the postponement of the Games had changed the dynamics for many of the athletes.
“Having watched over many (Olympic) cycles, in GB terms some sports frankly have benefited with the year-long delay because of the changing of the guard. The younger athletes who were coming through are older and more mature,” he said.
“Clearly other athletes who set their sights on Tokyo are a year older and some did not get there at all so it is a mixed bag.
“The key point is it is a lot more difficult to predict because of a lack of global competition.”
A lot has been made of the huge amounts of money invested in Olympic sports in Britain but Robertson insists the unparalleled success is due to several factors.
“It is not just money,” said the man who was Britain’s Sports and Olympics minister in 2012 when London hosted the games.
“We had a think about this in London. There was a big leap forward in Beijing and further progress in London and then Rio.
“The four key drivers of the success are structure, funding, coaching and mental attitude.
“I do not think one can go down the road that one is more important than the rest.”
Robertson says Team GB’s strength over past games has been largely due to performing well across a whole range of sports.
“In the Olympics, track and field and swimming dwarf the other sports for the fortnight,” he said.
“Interestingly enough given our success we have underperformed in the past in both.
“However, Tokyo may be the games we do not (underperform) as we have a very good track-and-field squad with medal hopefuls, and swimming likewise.
“The remarkable thing in Rio was I think we medaled in more sports than ever before.
“The Aussies’ jibe that Team GB were only good at sitting-down sports such as rowing, sailing, equestrian and cycling is no longer the case!”
The 58-year-old — who became chairman of the BOA in 2016 a year after stepping down as a Conservative Party lawmaker — believes the athletes will cope with what could be empty venues.
Foreign visitors have been barred and the Japanese government is due to announce this month whether local residents can attend.
“The greater priority is to stage the games and the message it will send out,” said Robertson.
“People globally need a beacon of hope in a year like this and if the cost we have to pay is to compete in empty stadia, so be it.”
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