Britains finish above China in Rio is on the back of lottery money, thankless work by people behind the scenes and despite cuts to sports facilities
It started on a Sunday, two weeks and half a lifetime ago. Adam Peaty in the pool. Two dry days, then came Joe Clarke in his canoe, Jack Laugher and Chris Mears together in the springboard diving. Flowing on, the mens team sprint. And then the flood. Three one day, the womens coxless pair, the mens coxless four, and the mens team pursuit. Three more the next, the mens eight and the womens team pursuit and Mo Farahs first. A full five on the middle Sunday, success coming in such a giddy rush now it was a struggle to keep up. Max Whitlock and Andy Murray, Jason Kenny and Justin Rose. On Monday, more. Charlotte Dujardin, Giles Scott then Laura Trott. Kenny again. And on. Alistair Brownlee. Saskia Clark and Hannah Mills. Jade Jones, Nick Skelton, the womens hockey team. Liam Heath. Nicola Adams. One last of all, one more for Mo.
Twenty-seven golds, all told, and 23 silvers and 17 bronzes. Sixty-seven medals altogether, the most Great Britain have won at an Olympics since the 1908 Games, surpassing even London 2012, and puttingGreat Britain ahead of China inthe final medals table. It was only20 years ago the team came backfrom Atlanta with a single gold medal between them, belonging to the coxless pair of Matthew Pinsent and Steve Redgrave. Everything else Great Britain did at those Olympics was silver or bronze or another hard luck story. This wave started building soon afterwards, when John Major decided to start channelling funds from the national lottery into elite sport. It seemed to reach a peak at London 2012 but has rolled on fast for another four years. Where was that legacy? Sebastian Coe said, through a grin, when he was asked on Saturday night about Team GBs success.
We have talked a lot about legacy and one of the things I was absolutely sure we wanted to make happen was that this wasnt just about participation, Lord Coe continued. It was about inspiring a new generation to want to do what they have seen Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton do in London, and we have seen that happen across a range of sports. There is some truth in that but not nearly so much as there is in the straightforward fact that the more you invest in your athletes and their training, the better they will do. The way UK Sport has been working it, in what it calls the no-compromise approach, the better they do, the more investment they will get.
So as investment has grown, from 60m before Sydney in 2000, to just under 280m for Rio 16 years later, Great Britain have climbed the medal table, from 36th in Atlanta, to 10th in Sydney and again in Athens, fourth in Beijing, third in London and, finally, second here. However, success doesnt always become the British and before these Olympics were even over we had started to second-guess ourselves. The Guardians Simon Jenkins wondered whether spending money on elite sport was a sin somehow akin to doping. Janet Street-Porter asked why, after all this investment, the number of British people participating in sport had actually fallen since 2012. One is a better question than the other. This system works and that should be celebrated. But we need to ask how to best ensure that all this amounts to something more than a handful of happy athletes and two weeks of good TV for the rest of us.
In all the excitement, you may have missed Mel Marshall during these Olympics. Marshall, 34, is the head coach at the City of Derby Swimming Club, where Peaty is her star pupil. She is one of the thousands of people whose hard and often thankless work behind the scenes has played such an important part in Great Britains success at these Games. When Peaty won that first gold medal with his record-breaking swim in the 100m breaststroke, Marshall came down from the stands to talk to the press and take a quick turn in the spotlight. Happy as she was for Peaty, some of what she said was a lot more sobering than anyone wanted to hear in the first rush of his victory.