Cash makes the difference in Olympic medal tables

A tweet from the Canadian Olympic team on Wednesday highlighted the size of the upper hand that Great Britain will have over their rivals at London 2012.

Additional high-performance funding has been allocated to Canada’s athletes, taking the total funding to $25 million over the four years leading up to the Games. That’s £15.4m – a little more than the GB hockey team is receiving from UK Sport over the same period and just over half of what GB cycling, rowing and swimming each receive to boost their quest for medals.

Admittedly, Canada invested a far greater sum, £72.6m, on their “Own the Podium” campaign in the run-up to the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, and their tally of 14 gold medals led the table.

China had a similar programme in the lead-up to 2008, their “Project 119” targeting the medals available in sports – like swimming and rowing – where the country did not traditionally excel.

They ended up winning the most golds in Beijing – the first time since 1936 that neither the United States nor the Soviet Union or Russia has topped that table.

This isn’t just about throwing cash at athletes. UK Sport has been rigorous in checking sports’ infrastructures and enforcing changes before awarding funding and it has been interesting to watch the increased depth of success over the last six or so years as a result.

Should Team GB have their sights set higher than fourth in the table in London? And what happens in 2013? Will there be a lasting legacy based on improved methods and structures or will the inevitable cut in cash see results plummet?

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