Britain's most decorated Olympian Sir Chris Hoy led a succession of medallists yesterday in warning David Cameron of the dire consequences of cutting funding for elite sport.
Hoy, who won his sixth gold medal in the velodrome on Tuesday, spoke out as ministers refused to guarantee that current levels of sports spending will be maintained. Funding for elite sport is set to be cut next year, leaving depleted resources when Team GB appears at Brazil in 2016 if it cannot make up the shortfall with lottery money.
Hoy told i: "15 years ago the lottery funding came in and it was the whole catalyst for the team's success."
"Me and [the 2000 gold-medallist] Jason Queally, and some of the others, remember when it was run on a shoestring budget. It was very different and we weren't anywhere near as successful."
The technological breakthroughs that have helped British cycling to dominate rivals "would never have happened were it not the opportunity to invest in finding these things out," he said.
Laura Trott, who picked up two cycling golds, said: "Funding is very important – it is the key to our sport, really. We would be lost without it."
Peter Wilson, who took Britain's first shooting gold medal for more than a decade, said: "Without lottery funding I would not be here."
The British Olympic Association, which benefited from the £250m of lottery and public money used to support elite athletes since London was awarded the Olympics, warned that the funding was "absolutely critical" to Team GB's victories. Darryl Seibel, its spokesman, said: "Without it we would not be where we are today."
The coach of the bronze medal-winning high jumper Robbie Grabarz, Fuzz Ahmed, said that sports funding "works out at 80p per person per month. It is an irrelevant amount of money compared with, say, a submarine. What would you rather have – Chris Hoy or a submarine?... We are 20 years ahead of the rest of the world, so if we give that away we are idiots."
Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, said yesterday he could not promise to protect funding: "[Predicting] the outcome of the spending round ... is obviously something I can't do and we need to have this discussion across government."
The Government has also found itself under attack recently over sports provision in state schools, which Mr Hunt admits is patchy.
Ministers have ditched a target for pupils to take part in at least two hours of PE and sport a week. In addition, the Coalition has scrapped a £160m school sport partnership scheme. Mr Cameron said the biggest drawback to encouraging future champions was not cash, but attitudes among some teachers. "The problem has been too many schools not wanting to have competitive sport, some teachers not wanting to join in and play their part," he told LBC Radio. But Christine Blower, general-secretary of the NUT, retorted: "It is ludicrous to suggest teachers are letting the side down."