Few things capture the imagination like supporting Great Britain’s medal winning heroes at the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Who can forget the steely resolve of Sir Chris Hoy as he became the most successful GB Olympian of all time, Nicola Adams winning the first ever Women’s boxing gold medal, Jonnie Peacock powering to gold or Ellie Simmonds’ dominance in the pool and of course her smile that can light up a room.
But it’s important not to be complacent over the number of medals and wealth of inspirational moments the nation has enjoyed in recent years.
You only have to cast your mind back to Atlanta 1996 to recall how difficult things were before the advent of National Lottery funding for high performance sport. Great Britain experienced a sobering Olympic games winning a solitary gold to finish a lowly 36th in the medal table and there were even tales of athletes selling their kit to make some money.
But that low point proved to be a transformational moment for high performance sport in Great Britain. It resulted in the creation of UK Sport in 1997 and the decision to invest National Lottery funds in to sport
This funding has turbo-charged the sporting system in Great Britain to such an extent we are now among the sporting super powers at the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Prior to Sydney 2000 I’d been to four Olympic Games as either manager or coach with the sailing team. We had won at least one medal at each of them and also scored many top eight positions.
There’s no doubt we had some talented athletes and the beginnings of a high performance system that could deliver success, but we were still being consistently outgunned by the bigger, richer nations.
The advent of National Lottery funding changed all that - at last we had the resources to compete on equal terms. I was Deputy Chef de Mission of the GB Olympic team in Sydney 2000 when we saw the first evidence of the rapid progress being made as GB finished 10th in the Olympic medal table, and in sailing we won three gold and two silver medals .
Fast forward to London and UK Sport had developed a world class high performance system culminating in Team GB and ParalympicsGB finishing third in the medal tables at London 2012 with an outstanding 65 and 120 medals won respectively.
The impact goes beyond that though, with London 2012 creating 213 Olympic and Paralympic medallists, each a wonderful role model, committing to inspiring the next generation by visiting schools and community groups. At the last count more than 10,000 visits have been made.
After London 2012, surveys showed the achievement of GB’s athletes ranked alongside national institutions such as the NHS and the Armed Forces in fostering national pride.
The outstanding success continued at Sochi 2014, which was the most successful Winter Olympic Games for 90 years, and best Paralympic performance for 30 years with Kelly Gallagher and her guide Charlotte Evans winning ParalympicsGB’s first ever winter gold medal.
The journey doesn’t stop there though, we’re seeking to build an even stronger more sustainable high performance system for Rio and future summer and winter games.
The sustained investment has allowed this country to attract and retain some of the world’s best coaches and support staff, help develop elite training centres and deliver, alongside our science medicine and technology arm, the English institute of Sport, the talent ID campaigns that have fast-tracked athletes like Helen Glover, Lutalo Muhammad and Lizzy Yarnold to Olympic glory.
It’s also worth reflecting on some of the other statistics; since National Lottery funding began it has supported more than 4,500 athletes on UK Sport’s World Class Programme and between them they have won a staggering 633 Olympic and Paralympic medals.
I’ve always said that to win consistently at the highest level you need a steady stream of talented athletes, a system that nurtures and trains them and the resources to do the job. The National Lottery provides the fuel that feeds the engine. Without it I believe GB would still be languishing at the lower end of the medal table with a pool of frustrated, talented athletes looking enviously over at their more privileged rivals thinking, if only...