ACCORDING to the bookies, Team GB are threatening to return one of their biggest medal hauls ever at the London Olympics. They should eclipse the 19 golds and 47 medals from Beijing, and might even challenge Russia for fourth place in the medal table, although they are unlikely to threaten our 1908 record when Britain won 146 medals, including 56 golds, in London.
After spending £312 million of Lottery funding since 2008 on preparing our Olympians, we have a squad of 542 athletes (the biggest at these Games) which is expected to exceed its own predictions and win 65-68 medals, although UK Sport’s chief executive Liz Nicholls is still talking in terms of 55 medals. The reason for such expectations is a raft of studies which show the host nation generally wins 54 per cent more medals than it usually does. In the case of Team GB, this means 21 more medals.
Even before the surge in funding for sport, British athletes had been steadily improving since Atlanta and returned a second-best ever haul in Beijing four years ago. Now the aim is to capitalise on home advantage and economists at UniCredit Bank said in one of the studies that the benefit of being host nation would be “substantial”.
“Home spectators’ enthusiasm can drive athletes to performance levels beyond what one would normally expect,” they wrote. “At the London Games, when 940 to 950 medals will be awarded, this home effect alone translates into an additional 21 medals for Great Britain.”
Goldman Sachs, meanwhile, noted: “If the experience of past Olympics provides a reliable guide, 2012 should be a vintage year for Team GB.”
Swimming, athletics and cycling are expected to be Team GB’s most prolific medal-yielding sports this year, with boxing, canoeing, equestrianism, diving, taekwondo, hockey and triathlon also chipping in.
Here are our ten most likely to top the podium:
Undoubtedly the best long-distance runner Britain has ever turned out, the Somalian-born athlete, who arrived in London from Mogadishu aged eight and not able to speak a word of English, is a phenomenon at 5,000m. The gold medallist at the 2011 World Championships (where he also won silver in the 10,000m), he was the first man to win both gold and silver meals at the European Championships in 2010. Knocked out of the 5,000m before the final in Beijing, at 2/1 he is nevertheless the hot favourite with the bookies to win the gold, with Ethiopia’s Dejen Gebremeskel by far his most dangerous rival.
The Sheffield heptathlete missed out on the Beijing Games but has become the poster girl for the London Olympics. The former European and world heptathlete champion, she is a lightning quick sprinter and very effective shot putter, but her javelin has been her Achilles heel in the past. The bookies fancy her, with one having her at an almost unbackable 5/6. They also agree that her closest rival is the 2011 world champion, 6ft 2in Russian Tatyana Chernova, with Nataliya Dobrnska, who set a new world record when beating Ennis into second place in March at the World Indoor Athletics Championships, the other main threat.
Sailing in unfamiliar waters, the Cornish sailor won Olympic silver in 1996 in Atlanta and has won gold medals at the past three Olympics. Now that he’s sailing in the waters around Weymouth and Portland which he knows intimately, it’s difficult to see any other outcome but a gold medal in the Finn class (the only time he’s been beaten recently was when he physically threatened a photographer last year and was disqualified). The bookies have him as a virtually unbackable 1/2 or better, with American Zach Railey and Spaniard Rafael Trujillo Villar distant afterthoughts at 10/1.
In Beijing, the Nottingham swimmer became the first British woman swimmer since Anita Lonsborough in 1960 to win an Olympic gold medal, and the first Briton since 1908 to win more than one gold medal at swimming when she won the 400m and 800 freestyle (she beat Janet Evans’ 19-year 800m world record by two seconds and beat the silver medallist by six seconds). Although an outsider to win a second 400m freestyle gold thanks to the dominance of Italy’s Federica Pellegrini, Adlington is odds-on (6/11) to reprise her 800m triumph, with Dane Lotte Friis her main rival.
South African-born to British parents, the 24-year-old 10km open water swimmer moved back to the UK aged 13, but only took up open-water swimming after she failed to win a medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games and had her funding cut. At Beijing she competed in the 200m and 400m individual medley, but won silver at the 10km open water event behind the dominant figure in the discipline, Russia’s Larisa Ilchenko. Payne has been increasingly competitive, though, winning gold in the 10km open water swim in 2009 at the Swimming World Championships in Rome, and repeating the trick in 2011 at the World Championships in Shanghai.
The painfully shy (her nickname the Silent Assassin is well-earned) 21-year-old middleweight from Hartlepool became Britain’s first female boxing world champion in China earlier this year when she edged out Elena Vystropova of Azerbaijan despite sustaining a bloodied nose earlier in the fight. Marshall is 2/1 to win gold, but it’s a close-run thing, with the Briton only fancied ahead of Russian fighter Nadezda Torlopova because she has home advantage. Flyweight Nicola Adams, who is No.3 in the world, is also worth keeping an eye on.
The West Country canoeist is one of the hottest favourites to end the Olympics atop a podium. The former world and current European champion, McKeever will be competing in a new event for the 2012 Games, the 200-metre kayak sprint, but won a gold in the K1 200m sprint at the world championships in Poznan in 2010 and a silver in the 4x200m event, getting a silver in the 200m last year and gold this year. Training every day at Dorney Reach has given him a home advantage, which is reflected in odds that get as skinny as 10/11, while his main rival is Pole Piotr Siemionowski a6 5/2.
The world and European triathlon champion for the past two years, Brownlee has won 24 of the 31 ITU world championship events he has contested since 2005. His main worry was whether the damaged Achilles that forced him to miss three races this season would be an issue, but on his comeback he cruised to victory in Kitzbuhel last month. Younger brother Johnny is also a good bet for a medal, having won five ITU events (mainly when Alistair wasn’t competing) in 22 starts. Alistair’s odds are at 8-13, Johnny is 9-4 and Spaniard Javier Gomez is a distant third at 7-1.
The Glasgow-born oarswoman is a three-times Olympic silver medallist having competed in the quadruple sculls in Beijing and Sydney and the coxless pair in Athens. A seven-times world champion, she has reduced the margin for error this time by entering the double sculls with Anna Watkins, the only woman to have beaten her since Beijing. She will be helped by the retirement of Romania’s legendary pair of Georgeta Damian and Viorica Susanu, and the bookies clearly believe home advantage and a desperate desire to win gold on what will surely be her last Olympics should see her home, hence the odds of 1-4.
Sir Chris Hoy
Although Scotland’s greatest-ever Olympian will not be defending his sprint title, and is definitely being reeled in by the pack – most notably by France’s Gregory Bauge – he should deliver in either the team sprint or keirin. The team sprint is the less likely of the two because Hoy has never won world championship gold in this event, and has finished with two bronzes and a silver in the past three years (hence their status as third favourites behind traditional powerhouses Germany and France). He has been imperious in the keirin, however, winning four of the last six world championships and winning silver in one of the other two, reflected in his odds of 5-6 with Bauge at 4-1.