A Closer Look At The Olympic Improvement In British Cycling

Yet another Olympic Games has come and gone, and for Team GB it was another highly successful Olympics on the track for the cyclists. With British riders raising their game and essentially cleaning up at the last two Olympics, rival teams have come forward with some veiled accusations; Anna Meares, Kristina Vogel and French sprint coach Laurent Gane have questioned Team GB’s high level of performance at the Olympics.

Here at TSZ, we will be comparing the performances of British riders in the last two Olympics with their performances in the two World Championships prior to the Olympics in both London 2012 and Rio 2016. Later in the piece, we shall also be investigating how the performances of Team GB’s closest rival differ from the World Championships to the Olympics. For the purpose of this investigation, we shall be focusing on the 10 track events that are in both the World Championships and the Olympic Games (men’s & women’s sprint, men’s & women’s keirin, men’s & women’s omnium, men’s & women’s team sprint, men’s & women’s team pursuit).

First up, we will look at the performances of the British riders in London 2012 and Rio 2016 and how they compare to the two World Championships prior to both Olympics.

We can clearly see that the British riders reach peak performance in time for the Olympics. Prior to the London Olympics in 2012, Britain showed a gradual progression, winning two gold medals in the World Championships in 2011 and five in 2012; however, by the time the Olympics came around Team GB were at their peak and dominated by winning seven gold medals out of a possible 10.

Unlike the run-up to 2012, British riders showed no signs of gradual progression in preparation for Rio 2016. The World Championships of 2015 were a disaster for the team as they only won three silver medals, whilst in this year’s edition they claimed two gold, one silver and two bronze; however, yet again as the Olympics came around the Brits dominated, winning six gold, four silver and one bronze, bettering their total medal tally on the track from London 2012.

Four-time Olympic Champion Laura Trott has stated that “British Cycling has always been very much an Olympic-based programme, so for us it wasn't about clearing up at the World Championships. It's always been around the Olympics and that's what our funding is pushed towards." It is hoped and almost expected that Team GB did well at Rio 2016, with the cycling team receiving the second highest amount of funding with £30,267,816 allocated towards Rio 2016; only the British rowing team received a greater amount of funding. When we compare this to the funding Australia received for the same four-year cycle (£18.6 million), it can be argued that this is where Anna Meares should focus her frustration on, rather than question the British performances.

Over the last few Olympic cycles, three countries can be identified as direct rivals to Team GB – Australia, France, and Germany; all countries who have questioned the British success in the Olympics. So, let’s see how their performances compare from the World Championships to the Olympics. First up, we will look at the World Championships in 2011 and 2012 in comparison to the Olympics in 2012.

In the lead up to the Olympics in 2012, Australia were the big challengers to Great Britain having won six golds in the World Championships in 2011, but that number decreased by half in 2012, resulting in three golds. By the time the Olympics came around, Australia only won one gold medal, suggesting they peak too early.

Next up, we look into the build-up to Rio 2016.

It is a similar story once again, with these countries generally performing better at the Worlds than they did in the Olympics. The World Championships in March 2016 saw a disappointing performance from France as they only claimed one silver medal, so they surely must not have expected to compete against the British in Rio. Germany may well have been expecting to compete with Team GB in the Olympics, having pretty much matched their performance in the World Championships in 2016; however, the improvement in the Olympics by Team GB is an understandable frustration for all their rivals.

British cycling coach Iain Dyer has hit back at the criticisms received from rival nations by saying “Some of the teams simply haven’t shown up…. That’s the bottom line… Some of the people here are not even performing at the level of the World Championships”. His comments suggest that countries need to make sure their athletes are peaking as they hit the Olympics rather than look for any “magic” that GB have up their sleeve.

A quick look at the Olympic Records and World Records in the sprint events on the track really do show how much of a dominant force the British have become.

It is interesting to see that all the Olympic or World records are either from this summer’s Olympic Games – with the aid of advances in technology – or from the World Cup meeting in Mexico 2013, where cyclist were able to take advantage of the high altitude. Of the 12 possible records, Britain hold seven of them – all of them set at this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio. Over the last few years, these records have been broken on numerous occasions, with this pattern only set to continue in the future with technological advances in the sport.