POSTED: August 6th 2012
JOHN GOODBODY: Home advantage is the key to rising up the medals table
THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications
August 6 - There are many striking features about the London Olympics but one of the most heartening has been the enthusiasm of the British supporters for the competitors. The stadia have been packed, except where there have been empty seats, too many of which seem to have been allocated to sponsors, leading dignataries, members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), international federations, athletes and even the media.
The crowds have been cheering competitors, sometimes in sports such as handball and weightlifting, which have a small participation, let alone spectator base, in Britain. Of course, the proximity to countries such as France, Germany, Belgium and Holland as well as the ease of access has given a genuine international flavour to these Games, as well as the vast number of Londoners with allegiances to other countries.
Television companies also like to have the backdrop of full stadia, because it adds atmosphere to their broadcasts and indicates to the viewing public how right they are to be watching the event on the screen.
There were full stadia in Beijing but the crowds seemed lukewarm in their responses. If one can criticise those 2008 Games, which were efficiently run in magnificiently appointed venues, it would be for their lack of soul. They seemed almost anti-septic compared with London.
It has been natural here that most of the spectators have been supporting the British competitors. Athlete after athlete has spoken of an atmosphere that has willed them to victory, certainly in those sports where sheer determination to drive oneself to the limits are so important. In sports such as archery or shooting, where control is so important, one can imagine that huge support could be detrimental to one’s concentration.
However, the majority of competitors receive evident benefit from competing at home. In 2008, Britain got 19 gold medals. With still six days to go, Britain have already got 18 and are third in the medal table. In a week, everything has changed. Britain had got no titles after four days. Now it is riding as high as could have been imagined.
This was, in fact, predictable because an examination of previous Olympic hosts had showed that there was a 25 percent increase in results in comparison to when they are not staging the Games. Not since the 1952 Games in Helsinki has a country failed to improve its performance when it has been hosting the Olympics.
China, for instance, improved by 59 percent from 2004 to the 2008 Games, while Australia did 78 per cent better for the 2000 Games and the United States by 19 percent for Atlanta in 1996. Spain got one gold medal and a total of four medals in 1988. When Barcelona put on the 1992 Olympics, Spain collected 13 gold and a total of 22 medals.
London therefore already seems to be continuing the trend with a target of about 25 gold medals for these Games, which would put them in third place, ahead of Russia, as well as their usual rivals for fourth place in the medal table, Germany and Australia.
Part of this is unquestionably down to an increase in funding, largely through the National Lottery. This has been available to individuals since the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta when Britain obtained just one title.
However, the advantage of actually competing at home is immense. There are no problems with jet-lag, and the atmosphere, weather and food are familiar. And, above all, there is the support from the home crowd. And here in London it has been overwhelming.
** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2008 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 11th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.
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