Team GB: how do they do it?
How come Team GB are so good on two wheels? (Image: LEON NEAL / AFP)
It’s the question everybody’s asking in the velodrome. Well, everyone but the British, we are just enjoying it.
Once the whole country almost basked in being rubbish at sport, but then the government threw huge amounts of money at it, some of it stuck, and now we are good, and we love it.
Money partly answers the question. Money underpins much of UK’s cycling’s success.
You will hear a lot of talk about marginal gains, but those margins only come from having the money to try them, because for every gain, there will be five things that didn’t work, and that’s what costs.
But even marginal gains hide something, the fact that Team GB’s cyclists and the staff who support them do everything right. They are a collective that’s bigger than the sum of their parts. And Olympic domination is what the collective aims FOR.
But money comes in again, not all federations have the luxury of being so single minded. The French sprint silver medallist, Gregory Bauge said as much. He dominated world sprinting between the Olympics, but was left gasping in Jason Kenny’s wake in London.
Domination hasn’t been easy. British Cycling’s chief coach Shane Sutton says; “About 18 months ago it hit us, London was getting closer and it was time to take a long hard look at where we were. Some people got told some home truths, everyone had to roll up their sleeves and start giving 100 percent.”
Everyone meant literally everyone involved with the team in London; the long-listed athletes, the physios, the carers, mechanics, coaches and nutritionist, were ALL asked to look at what they do, analyse it and come up with things they could do better.
And they did, they tried new stuff, and what didn’t work was thrown away but what did was kept and laid on top of the best practice the team had already evolved.
Some stuff was even held back, and that added to what has been one of Team GB’s masterstrokes; momentum.
The track team started well in the Melbourne world championships. They fielded what was the gb Olympic squad in what would be a dry run for the Games, and they dominated.
But then a second of British Cycling’s initiatives, arguably their most ambitious project yet, hit pay dirt.
Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France, the first Brit to do it, and Team Sky dominated with Chris Froome in second, Mark Cavendish taking three stages and the collective effort was mighty.
The effect that had on cycling in the UK WAS huge, but the effect it had on the Olympic track team was even bigger. Sky is based on the principles all British international races live train and race by. Winning the Tour de France acted as a huge springboard for their effort.
Wiggins kept it going by winning gold in the time trial. ‘Secret’ marginal gains, like the world’s speediest helmets, what had been kept under wraps, were handed out. Momentum swung onto the track and the GB riders hit it pedalling like never before. Gold begat gold and the landslide began.
Anybody who wants to beat them has to play catch up now. But they know what it takes; focus, technology and a collective will to strive for excellence.
There are no secrets. In fact the ‘Secret Squirrel’ department that everybody talks about being in Manchester has a big element of smoke a mirrors about it, a ruse to get the competition believing that the GB track riders have special equipment with huge speed advantages.
The truth is rather more boring. It’s about everyone doing their best, and being treated as an equal part of the whole. For example, all Team GB riders work with one of the best sports psychiatrists in the world, Steve Peters, but all of the team staff work with him too. If a mechanic has a problem and Peters can help, then the mechanic gets his undivided attention until the problem is sorted.
If there is a secret, it’s that, everybody being equal but at the same time the team comes before any individual does. It’s quite a beautiful thing really, and it’s very strong.
So strong that Geraint Thomas put his road race goals, where he is going to be one of the world’s best soon, on hold for a year just to win the same gold medal he won in Beijing.
And if you want another example of how strong Team GB’s spirit is; Mark Cavendish is considering putting his road career on hold for a year to ride the track in Rio. He hasn’t got an Olympic gold, but all his friends have, so he wants one.
He also wants to experience being part of that winning track team again. Part of a unit that lives in each other’s pockets, that trains on a cold track on dark December mornings. That rides the rainy hills around Manchester. One that wins the Olympic Games.
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- 2012 London Olympics