The Rio Olympics was a real showcase for sport, especially for Team GB. Contrary to many doom-mongers, I really enjoyed the coverage of Rio 2016. The venues looked good (despite the empty seats and green pools), the opening ceremony was epic and there were no major security incidents. There was a sense that Rio just about managed to pull it off, not bad given the circumstance.
The Olympics is great because it enables smaller sports to be showcased on a bigger platform, such as archery, hockey, and rowing.
Ah rowing, a particular fondness as I rowed non-stop for five years at a school level, with battle scars including sinking in the Schools Championships, but thankfully winning the gold a year later. Rowing is a sprint - endurance sport, which exhibits a terrible 'return on investment'. There is no way around hard work and I sunk thousands of hours of my life in the river.
For the very few who make it to the top, it is even more relentless, seven days a week, six hours a day training - with just enough lottery funding to survive and aside from the occasional BBC blog, virtually no coverage unless you win a medal. If you are lightweight rower, you even have to count your calories. Contrast that to other sports like Rugby or Football, where even in League Two you will on average get twice the salary of a GB Olympian rower. Unlike other countries, getting a Olympic gold medal doesn't give you a financial bonus either.
It's insanely competitive, rightly so as witnessed by their gold medal performances. Thousands of young oarsmen, fed through competitive school and university systems, train for their entire lives, but most just get cut with no easy route back in without iron resolve and financial commitment.
Yet the system works, we beat China, to reach second in the medal table, incredible really.
Not only does it show how effective our system is, it also highlights how much of an impact sport has at a grassroots level. Compared to bigger countries, we engage with sufficient people at the base to obtain talent at the top. India, with their billion inhabits, don't, hence their poor medal track record. Sure, at a per medal per funding level, each Olympic medal costs millions, but each athlete is the best of tens of thousands plus of other enthusiastic members at club level. It pulls the quality and participation up, driving a happier, healthier lifestyle in general and also promotes the UK as a nation.
To me sports breaks down social barriers because it strips everything to the basic level. It leaves little to interpretation. You are measured by your ability, not skin colour and that authenticity is both refreshing in an increasingly wishy-washy world, and motivating for those who want it enough. We now just need to ensure continued support to enable access to the training and resources for all people.
Sports changes lives, it gives a sense of focus, a direct relationship between hard work and reward, teamwork, competition, alongside the health benefits. We would do well to continue to build on this legacy - both at elite and grassroots level. It changed my life for the better - even without a Olympic medal, and it will continue to change many more.
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