UK Sport blog: Peter Keen
Published 18 June 2012
2011 Getty Images
"No compromise" is a phrase we refer to a lot at UK Sport. It represents not only our approach to investment in Olympic and Paralympic sport, but the mind-set and philosophy we believe is paramount to achieving greatness.
But compromise was exactly what British athletes and their coaches had to do to just make it to the start line before National Lottery funding came along.
Back in the early nineties, I was coaching cyclists in my spare time while working full time as a university lecturer. Some of the athletes I worked with were fortunate to have professional contracts with road teams, but many were claiming benefits or struggling to hold down a job while travelling the world to compete and earn ranking points to make Olympic qualification.
I have memories of struggling myself to balance travelling to competitions with athletes I was coaching, while trying to mark end of year exam papers from my students back at the university. In fact, I almost left some of those exam papers on a plane once and went into a mad panic until realising they were in my bag all along! Clearly I was not fully focused on either of my responsibilities at that point in time. Compromise.
Not to say the athletes of that time weren't successful. Chris Boardman, Steve Redgrave and Sally Gunnell (pictured above) to name a few are fine examples of athletes who did it alone without any kind of central funding, but they were the exception, rather than the rule; lone individuals working in remarkable isolation with their coaches, but capable of extraordinary achievements.
It's safe to say that the period around the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games was an absolute low point for British sport. One solitary gold medal and 36th place in the medal table from the Olympic team – Lottery support could not come quickly enough.
It's fair to say the level of ambition within talented British athletes and coaches was no different in those days to that today, but Lottery funding has hugely increased the probability and collective belief that British athletes can be the best.
They say that the Lottery can be "life changing" and for me that was certainly the case. Once funding became available for elite sport through UK Sport in 1997 I left my job in academia to set up British Cycling's Lottery funded World Class Performance Programme based at the Manchester Velodrome, where it continues to thrive today. Within weeks I had resigned from my job, sold my house, moved up North and written my business case to UK Sport for the funding – all in anticipation of the incredible opportunity this presented for my sport of cycling.
Now, I'm sure many of you will be aware of the progress made, and not just within cycling, but across all Olympic and Paralympic sports in this country. At the Beijing 2008 Games Team GB finished fourth in the medals table – their best overall performance in over 100 years – while ParalympicsGB have remained a force to be reckoned with in retaining second place for the past three Games.
Our best athletes no longer have to balance training with a part time job – they can commit full time to their sport and are supported to travel the world with the best full time coaches and sports science and medical specialists in tow. National Lottery funding has allowed us to ask the question "What does a British athlete need to do to be the best?" and provide the answer.
Currently, more than 1,200 of the UK's best Summer and Winter Olympic and Paralympic athletes and hopefuls are supported by the Lottery through the World Class Performance Programme. My job at UK Sport has been to oversee this investment and ensure it is underpinned by cutting edge coaching, innovation and science, built around a sustainable support system capable of generating the champions of the future.
It is hard to overstate the impact that Lottery funding has had on our sporting success as a nation and I have no doubt that our athletes will do us all proud at what is set to be the most fantastic Games this summer in London, but importantly, also for many years to come as we look towards future Olympic and Paralympic Games with the Lottery's continued support.
Thank you for your contribution; every ticket sold makes a huge difference. They are your athletes and you are helping to turn their ambition and raw talent into sporting achievement at the highest level, without compromise.
This blog first appeared on Inside the Games