A tall story about Olympic success

Tucked away on the excellent IT site The Register, there’s an interesting article which may go some way towards explaining why Britain has done so well at the London Olympics: How talent-spotting boffins help Team GB bag Olympic gold.

The reasons do not include home advantage, but involve the ever more intrusive presence of science. The focus (for now) is proactively finding people who have the potential – physical, mental and genetic – to be Olympic medal winners, rather than waiting and hoping suitable talented athletes will turn up at the right time in the right sports. How effective has the approach been so far?

Helen Glover, who last week won Britain’s first gold medal at London 2012 along with rowing partner Heather Stanning, only started rowing four years ago in 2008. London was her first Olympics competition.

Glover was a teacher drafted into Team GB using a 2007 programme started by gold-medal rower Sir Steve Redgrave for UK Sport called Sporting Giants.

And as further food for thought:

It seems the days of the talented amateur training alone are disappearing, along with the idea that it’s enough for teams to produce just one or two hits followed by fallow periods.

One reason for this is the need for results in an increasingly tough competitive world.

Bolt’s cruise to victory in the 100 metres on Sunday is proof of just how tight the margins are and of the need for more precise and systematic selection and grooming of athletes. Bolt won on 9.63 seconds compared to 9.69 four years ago in Beijing. But his competitors were also faster than before: four of those racing against Bolt were faster than the runner who came second against Bolt in Beijing.

Now that’s a narrow margin.

Meanwhile, here in Israel, there’s an enquiry underway into the blowout we suffered at the Olympics: not a single medal. I cannot find any mention of Israel having a similar, scientific, approach to athletics success which does not bode well for the future. However, maybe everything’s explained in Hebrew somewhere, and there are such preparations in place, and the Rio Olympics will be a more successful one for Israeli sportsmen.

Meantime, we will just have to hope the incredible exploits of soccer minnows Kiryat Shmona continues.