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Up and coming is the key

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14 July 2008




Article by Ed Warner as seen in Athletics Weekly magazine





So, Trials weekend is upon us. And it’s gratifying to see so many events in which competition for places in Team GB are likely to be fiercely contested. A key measure of improving standards is a surplus of athletes with the A qualifying standard. It’s important that posting the standard is no simple guarantee of a place on the plane.


Last week, UK Sport publicised its medals target for each sport this summer in both the Olympics and Paralympics. In case you’ve not seen them elsewhere, British athletes are slated to bring home five Olympic and thirty Paralympic medals (more specifically twelve Paralympic Gold). These compare with four and seventeen respectively in Athens.


While UKA has agreed these targets with UK Sport – it’s all part of the imperative for accountability surrounding the provision of lottery funding – my scepticism about medals table targeting has already been well aired publicly. And nothing I’ve seen in my eighteen months at UKA has changed my opinion.


For me, while medals won is a consequence of doing the right things, our objective should be to do those things, not to believe we can ensure that athletes go out and win medals. Our targets should be about making sure the sport has the right infrastructure – coaches, competitions, clubs and their facilities – and that our work with the most promising athletes is organised to help them make the best of their talents.


What then happens in an Olympics is down to the fickle hand of fate, which is, after all, the great joy of sport. In that spirit, I can envisage British athletics having an excellent pair of Games in Beijing, but not meeting UK Sport’s targets. Similarly, the targets might be met but in such a way that masks underlying concerns. But then in a multi-discipline sport with over 200 member nations of the IAAF, this will always be so.


Don’t read any of this as an attempt to get our excuses in early. Rather I’m rehearsing the arguments that will be vital, however well our athletes do this summer, when the funding for sports in the four years leading up to London 2012 is announced very shortly after Beijing.


At a recent meeting of all the Olympic and Paralympic sports with UK Sport, I was pleased to hear that increased emphasis appears to be being placed on the number of up and coming potential finalists and not just medals in the coming funding round.


We have consistently believed that this should be so – partly because we think home supporters will want athletes to cheer across the athletics finals in 2012, but also because the more of our athletes who are capable of making finals, the greater the number of chances fate will play into British hands. And the more disciplines that feature competitive Britons, the healthier our sport will be in the long term.