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A ‘What if’ Games

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8 September 2008



Article as featured in Athletics Weekly Magazine



The Beijing Games proved to be the event that athletics desperately needed. A full stadium, world and Olympic records, mercifully few drugs scandals and the coronation of a global superstar. Usain Bolt produced the iconic moments of the Games, across all the sports, and can now rank alongside Schumacher, Woods and Beckham as a sportsman whose appeal transcends national boundaries and extends well beyond his sport’s normal fan base.


Congratulations to Great Britain’s four medal winners – Germaine Mason, Christine Ohuruogu, Tasha Danvers and Philips Idowu – their coaches and the performance staff who have supported them and all of our athletes. 


The British team’s performance in China was broadly similar to that in Japan – one fewer medal but four more top eight finishes, equal 8th in the medal table versus 10th in Osaka, and 6th place in the placing table on both occasions. Neither a triumph nor a disaster, and better than many pessimistic pundits had forecast earlier in the year – remember those saying Jessica Ennis would be our only medallist?


That said, I came away from Beijing feeling that this was a “nearly” or “what if” Games for British athletics, a feeling made all the stronger by the excellent performances from Team GB in a number of other sports. Too many of our athletes will be disappointed that they did not put themselves into contention by reaching their final or, once there, failed to get into the mix for a medal.


Home advantage may count for something in 2012, but it would be naïve to think that this alone will make the difference between an excellent Games for British athletics and merely a solid one. You can be sure that our review of our performance in Beijing will lead to some key changes in our programme for the four year cycle to London.


Many people have pointed out the very poor showing of the other major Western European nations in China. Italy, Spain, Sweden, France and Germany won four medals between them, the same as Great Britain. This shed a more favourable light on our results, but is really a great cause for concern. International athletics has for many years relied on Western Europe as the sport’s banker. How long can this persist if the region is not producing new superstars to cement its local appeal?


Beijing is now in the final stages of preparation for the Paralympic Games which begin on Saturday. ParalympicsGB’s team includes 36 athletes, and I wish them all every success in what I am sure will be another very memorable sporting event for China and the watching world.