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Tuesday, 1 January 2013

2012 Olympic and Paralympic reflections part 2/2

In the last blog, I reminisced about my highlights of the Olympic and Paralympic golden summer of sport. They were all a little predictable and almost over familiar recollections. Here I want to reflect upon the rise of Team GB!

Once we got past the superb Glover/Stanning duck breaking 1st Wednesday (honour to be there - great tickets - thanks @Olympianben!), the most profound memory will be the unprecedented torrent of medals that followed. It was a delight that there was no sense of complacency or increasing indifference in welcoming each one onto the medal table. There was a fabulous excitement that built in the lead up to each one and how everything had to stop to witness every moment. The real difficulty was in keeping up with each and every one of the 65 Olympic and 120 Paralympic medallions, and of course that includes each of the near misses, the 4ths and 5th etc.

Team GB & Women's rowing break their duck

We have a simple formula in the English Institute of Sport (@eis2win) for increasing the number of gold medals won by Team GB, well actually it is just from the physiology team across NGBs and home country sports institutes. In fact it is so effective that I am reluctant to reveal it  such is the strength of association between this intervention and gold medal return. Well here goes! (Actually before I reveal all, I should tell you that the data are real, you can easily check the gold medal tallies from previous games, you will have to take my word for it, having worked at the BOA during the post-Atlanta period to post-Athens and the checked with the admin staff for Beijing!)

The answer to getting more golds - send more physiologists to work at the Olympics (holding camp, outside or in the village)! As you can see the relationship between the two (cause and effect, no doubt) is the purest of the pure, cleanest of the clean, tightest of the tight associations between the two. Unequivocal, I am sure you agree. Just send more and the bling rolls in. 

Do bear in mind that even if you don't want a gold medal you still have to send 3 and a half physiologists, equally if you want all 302 golds we need a rally to arms for an almighty 122 physiologists to attend the games (I am not sure actually whether they need to do any work, perhaps just being there is effective). Beyond the fact that I might have been a teensy bit selective in deciding who went was a physiologist and who went as a coach, (e.g. I officially went as a coach to Beijing, but I am claiming myself as a physiologist), the actual relationship would not be hugely weakened (so please do feel free to abuse this chart for any of your stats lessons or the like - much gaffawing will not doubt ensue - we have a right old laugh with our science japes don't we?). Of course, of course it is not sending the physiologists to a games that results in more gold medals, but what this does represent over time is a growth of the support system. You could rightly label the x axis, 'infrastructure' or 'investment' or 'experience'. Having seen the introduction of lottery money ushering the wave of athletes into full-time training, the birth of the institutes, the awarding of the home games and then ultimately the home games themselves, it has been a fast and relentless development of the system. We have had tears and tantrums as the system makes hard calls (often at the sake of peoples livelihoods) and the pressure of performing in the heat of the cauldron always makes some people go a bit doo-lally. But it would be fair to say that we now have a system that has matured with great experience, established strong relationships with sports and their coaches coupled with a know-how that is truly performance focused.

If I took a longitudinal view of the support system, in the history of the institutes (circa 10yrs), two disciplines have grown from a seedling to full bloom, they are strength and conditioning and performance analysis. The number of S&C coaches, that could mix it with the best coaches in the world's best coaches, 10 years ago in the UK was just a handful, but over the last two Olympic cycles we have seen the people and the potential unlocked from the conditioning teams. Creativity in movement patterns, critical thought about loading and ultimately the improvement of appropriate force generation has been vital in protecting and progressing our athletes performances. The latter (PA), born out of match analysis, has proved its worth through the evidential  recording and observations of performance that inform judgement rather than  mystical opinion and guesswork. I can't think of a sport that shouldn't have this as a bedrock of all support and coaching, and so it proved with our very own Stafford Murray leading a team of performance analysts at the games (there might be a correlation brewing...), providing instantaneous and holistic analysis across sports. 

Physiology has undergone its own transformation  from 'lab-testers' to 'response optimisers' (see previous top 10 blogs from the summer), but physiology support was established as an essential service from as early as the 1970's, whereas S&C and PA have blossomed more recently as performance drivers. So does the relationship between physiologists vs golds stack up, I hear you ask? Did we send the 15 physiologists that would be necessary to magic 29 golds? Er, no I reckon there were 10 in attendance, oh well never mind! Nevertheless, there was great satisfaction seeing some of the physiology team and the EIS as a whole getting some great recognition for their work with our Olympic and Paralympic medallists. So whilst the noble art of backroom support will remain an altruistic role,  there to help when things go wrong, there to innovate when the next edge is required, it was heartwarmingly nice but reassuring about its effectiveness, to see so many of the SPOTY interviewees give a thoroughly generous and gracious nod to the whole system of support.

London has left a lasting glow of euphoria on my soul, on support systems in the UK, on the Olympics and Paralympics that makes me wonder if it will ever get any better than this? Well maybe not for us here in blighty, but who wouldn't want to see the Olympics take a samba into the South Americas in 2016 or see how the wonderfully proud Japanese would represent themselves in 2020 (or Istanbul or Madrid for that matter, but my money is on Tokyo to be announced on 7th Sept 2013). The Olympics moves on, life-after-London is something we have planned for and to use it to stoke our ambition - to keep the flame alive after the cauldron has been extiguished. As Simon Barnes described we must return to the foothills once again and look upwards at the lofty zenith. This time we can climb armed with the knowledge and experience of having previously summited the highest peak.


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