Opinion: ‘We should be proud of our athletes’

Peterborough MP Paul Bristow writes his regular column for the Peterborough Telegraph

Saturday, 7th August 2021, 2:00 pm
Great Britain's Sky Brown during the Women's Park Prelims Heat at Ariake Sports Park Skateboarding on the twelfth day of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Japan. Picture: PA Wire/PA Images

At the time I’m writing, Great Britain is fourth in the Olympics medals table with 15 golds and 48 medals overall. By the time you’re reading this, the number of medals will be up again.

It’s a hugely impressive effort by Team GB.

Only China, the United States and this year’s host nation, Japan, are ahead of us. Other European countries are lagging way behind. I’m so proud of our athletes from Peterborough, who are contributing to this success.

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Great Britain finished third at London 2012 and an incredible second at Rio 2016. Whatever position we take this time, our status as a sporting superpower is looking secure.

It’s such a change from the Olympics of the past. We reached a low point at Atlanta 1996, when Great Britain finished with only 15 medals and a single gold.

The old joke about our attitude was that practicing beforehand would “ruin the fun”. But our athletes weren’t lazy or talentless back then. The ability to practice well depends on time, facilities and support.

We had a lot of part-time competitors who were left to do their best, by themselves, without the professional setup of successful nations. Atlanta forced us to reconsider.

The Prime Minister then, John Major, had introduced the National Lottery in 1994. He acted quickly to divert these new lottery funds towards backing future Olympians.

As gold-winning rower Dame Katherine Grainger put it: “There had never even been a full-time coach of the women’s team before and suddenly we had one... and medical support too.”

Although our rowers had a poor Tokyo by their recent standards, the success of this policy is clear. And the breadth of sports that has been backed is a factor.

Some countries put all their eggs in one or two sporting baskets. No golds in rowing would have cost us dear before, but our medals now come from a huge variety of competitions.

UK Sport administered £274 million of funding for the Tokyo games cycle. The facilities developed for the London games in 2012 also continue to deliver.

I’m not sure whether the famous Boris zip wire is still in place, but as he got stuck, that’s perhaps as well. The zip wire has yet to join BMX racing and skateboarding as an Olympic event.

The pommel horse, however, is firmly established. Here in Peterborough, we have a local hero who secured silver on the pommel horse in 2012 and, again, in 2016.

Louis Smith was actually the first British man to win an Olympic medal in the individual gymnastics since 1908, when he secured the bronze at Beijing 2008. A century is a long gap.

He’s a great guy and a huge inspiration. Going on to win Strictly Come Dancing and The Masked Dancer must have been a breeze after that.

As so often happens, success breeds success. Team GB wouldn’t have achieved its gymnastic golds without Louis as the trailblazer. It’s quite a legacy for someone who was born and bred in 
Peterborough.

And there are more Peterborough heroes to come. We will see one in a couple of weeks when the Paralympics arrive. If anyone can grab back a rowing gold, its James Fox.

Success isn’t easy. The best thing about our athletes’ success in the Olympics is that we know it’s deserved.