Team GB Cycling reclaim Gold in Beijing & London | The Olympics On The Record

Team GB Cycling reclaim Gold in Beijing & London | The Olympics On The Record


Success at the top level of
sport doesn’t happen overnight. It’s the result of years
of planning and preparation, a process that can take
a long time. It’s not all glamorous! Great Britain’s exceptional
triumphs in recent Olympic cycling
competitions stand as proof of the importance of
an all-encompassing plan. A nation that didn’t win a single gold medal
for 72 years worked out a way
to win them all. In both Beijing in 2008
and London in 2012, Team GB’s cyclists
won eight gold medals. But how did they do it? What was the secret of the domination nation on
two wheels? Back in the early 20th century, Britain was pretty good
at cycling. They won five golds in 1908 from only six events on
the schedule and were top of the medals
table in Antwerp in 1920. But the wheels fell off
thereafter and years of relative failure
would follow. For the next six decades,
between 1924 and 1988, Great Britain didn’t win
a single gold medal in the Olympic cycling events. It was 64 years later when a determined
self-starter called Chris Boardman finally won gold in the 4km pursuit in
Barcelona. But back home the sport was
still in disarray. Questions were asked in
Parliament and the governing body
was on the brink of bankruptcy. The national velodrome in
Manchester couldn’t even pay
its electricity bill. But behind the scenes, there
were green shoots of recovery. A young sport science graduate
named Peter Keen realised there needed to be a system
in place to produce a legacy of
success. The immediate results were
underwhelming. At the Atlanta Olympic Games
in 1996, GB won only two bronze medals. No ticker tape parades,
but it was enough to secure some much-needed funding, allowing Keen to pursue
his vision. At the 2000 Olympic Games
in Sydney, Jason Queally, a converted
swimmer, won a time trial gold. There were two more golds in
Athens in 2004 thanks to two young stars
with a bright future – Bradley Wiggins and Chris Hoy. By now, Team Principal Dave
Brailsford joined the team. Like Keen, he was also
a planner, who had strong ideas about how to achieve success on
the track. Brailsford, a journeyman pro
in his previous life, developed a philosophy which became known as
“marginal gains”. A reference to
the tiny measures a team or an athlete can take
in order to produce even a 1% improvement
in performance. You’re my marginal gain, honey. Really? Aw!
That’s a good thing, right? Team GB were meticulous. Of course they focused closely
on diet and nutrition, plus the design of the bike.
Everyone was doing that. But Brailsford’s team also
found the best pillow to sleep on, replicated the heat and humidity of race
conditions in practice arenas and employed an infections
and germs specialist to teach such skills as
good hand washing. Brailsford’s team searched
for the best massage gel and even got the blueprints
of the bedrooms in the Olympic village, so riders could pack their bags
with the optimum kit. How they laughed at those fussy
Brits and their funny ways. But all those marginal gains
were starting to add up. The performance of Team GB
at the Olympic Games in Beijing changed the landscape
of the sport. Chris Hoy won three
gold medals, in the Keirin, team and
individual sprints. Victoria Pendleton won an individual gold
in the sprint. And check out this sprint
finish by Nicole Cooke at the end of
her 120-kilometre Road Race. Bradley Wiggins also won
two gold medals. Like Hoy and Pendleton, he set a new Olympic record
in the process. GB, so used to looking up
to their traditional rivals, found themselves the top dogs
of the track cycling events. Britain had won more golds
at this one Olympic Games than in the previous
100 years put together. This marginal gains business was also having
a knock-on effect on professional road racing, with Brailsford’s
young graduates making their mark in
the major tours, and not in a shy way. Wiggins became the first Briton
to win The Tour de France. Mark Cavendish became the
dominant sprinter in cycling. Chris Froome,
once Wiggins’ deputy, inherited his
Tour de France title. Could they do it all again at the London 2012
Olympic Games? The final table, if anything,
even more lopsided. This is what you can do
with a long-term plan and a commitment to excellence.

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