Following less than stellar performances at the world championships, Great Britain is finding themselves in the place of having to defend their hefty medal haul this summer in Rio. Of course, in such a competitive environment, tensions run high and it’s understandable that no one likes having to uphold their success against accusations of misconduct when so much hard work goes into preparation.

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Although being careful to use vague language, some of the comments coming from other athletes do seem to imply that something is amiss. Australian sprinter Anna Meares, for example, is among those puzzled by the success. She stated the following to the Sydney Morning Herald:

‘The British are just phenomenal when it comes to the Olympic Games, and we’re all just scratching our heads going: ‘How do they lift so much when in so many events they have not even been in contention in the world championships?’

Hong Kong's Lee Wai Sze (L) shakes hands with Australia's Anna Meares after coming in ahead of her in the Women's sprint last 8 track cycling event at the Velodrome during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Hong Kong’s Lee Wai Sze (L) shakes hands with Australia’s Anna Meares after coming in ahead of her in the Women’s sprint last 8 track cycling event at the Velodrome during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Of course, the British have been quick to defend their success. Laura Trott has been active in explaining to the media that her home country has always targeted the Olympics in their training and why their often lackluster performance at the world championships shouldn’t be taken as an indication of what their team is capable of accomplishing.

The 24-year-old, who last week became Great Britain’s most successful female Olympian ever, claiming the fourth gold medal of her career, told BBC: “It is a little bit frustrating because there’s a lot of hard work gone into that performance.” She added: “British Cycling has always been very much an Olympic-based program, so for us it wasn’t about clearing up at the World Championships.” The team’s cyclists won six medals from events in Rio, and seven in 10 events at both Beijing in 2008 and in London four years ago.

Of course, it is important to understand the impact that the setup of a country’s training program can have on their ability to bring home medals. Australia, who also has a strong world championship performance, ranks very low in olympic medal count.

Looking at the numbers, British Cycling’s funding via UK Sport, £30 million in the four-year cycle ahead of Rio, is based on performance at the Olympics – and is likely to increase after Team GB took 12 medals at Rio against a target of 8-10.

Laura T
Laura Trott became Great Britain’s most successful female Olympian ever.

By contrast, the Australian sport funding model is based in large part on its riders’ performance at world championships.

While Cycling Australia is calling for changes to funding to make its riders more competitive at the Olympics, there’s the added complication between now and Tokyo 2020 of a home Commonwealth Games on Queensland’s Gold Coast to contend with in 2018, where home riders will be expected to challenge for gold.

All in all, it’s a testament to the intensity of professional athletic competition. Athletes are expected to demonstrate exceptional levels of professions in all respects, and it is understandable that with adrenaline running so high, comments are sometimes made without much consideration. But of course without proof or evidence, the results remain to speak for themselves.

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