Britain expects: The £265m gamble worth its weight in gold

From the early hours of this morning Britain has good reasons to expect its greatest weekend of sport; a surge of world-beating prowess on land and water that could net its athletes up to nine gold medals.

British sport has found a vein of Olympic gold here that is stretching all the way from old Beijing to the waters of Shanghai – where Ben Ainslie leads the chase for victory.

From the first thrilling exploits of the Welsh cyclist Nicole Cooke and the English swimmer Rebecca Adlington, there has been a sense that these Olympics would loom large, unimaginably so it would have seemed just a decade ago, in the annals of British sport. Now that hope is touching against the most exciting reality since Bobby Moore lifted the World Cup in 1966. We can confidently expect nine golds this weekend – a record for Britain in modern Olympics.

At last British sports fans who have travelled to the ends of the earth for so long have been reminded of the reason why. They are seeing the sportsmen and women perform to the very edge of their limits, and the measurements in the next days could be unprecedented. All of this suggests that when the world comes to London in four years time it will find a sports nation that has learnt to believe in itself again. So why now? Is it because Britain has suddenly discovered a superior breed of sportsmen and women?

No, it is not that. It is because on the tide of Britain's successful bid to host the next Olympics they have been given the means to do the job.

The British effort here has been underpinned by £265m worth of Lottery money – more than three times the investment in the team that won nine golds in Athens four years ago and £202m more than that spent on Sydney's 11 golds.

Along with this weekend's anticipated success there is an even greater certainty of political self-congratulation. Just a few days ago the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Andy Burnham, said: "Other countries like Australia now look to us as a country who got serious about sport and are now saying that they are in danger of falling behind team Great Britain in the medals table."

Against that claim, it perhaps needs to be remembered that Sydney alone has more Olympic-sized swimming pools than all of Britain, and that Australia has had an all-purpose sports centre in Canberra for more than 30 years. Another huge question concerns whether the surge of government backing for elite sport will expand into a more serious effort to improve grassroots facilities and readdress the damage caused by the selling-off of school playing fields.

This, though, is a question that probably should await recognition of what can happen when potentially world-class performers are given the right backing, which was the most haunting question in Atlanta in 1996 when Britain's only gold was won by Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent.

This morning Pinsent's gold-winning team-mate from Athens, Steve Williams, is considered one of the British bankers with his crew-mates Tom James, Andy Triggs-Hodge and Pete Reed.

At some point in this projected march to double figures in gold there will be a statement about the generosity of the Government's donations of Lottery money. The chances are it be will be drowned out by British cheers – along with the question: "Why did it take so long?"

Countdown to glory: Britain's medal hopes this weekend

Here, in chronological and cast order, is the roll call of British hope which started at 3.13 am when the swimmer Rebecca Adlington sought to add to the gold she won at the start of the week.

9.30am: Bradley Wiggins, a medallist in Athens, goes for more success in cycling pursuit.

10.30am: The four-man rowing team marches down the slipway.

Midday: Yachtsman Ben Ainslie, a serial medallist since the Atlanta Games, pursues another Finn class triumph in Shanghai waters. Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson start favourites in Yngling class yachting.

12.15pm: Chris Hoy, another proven winner, is the man to beat in the keirin event in track cycling.

00.30am Sunday: Paula Radcliffe attempts to redeem the pain of her breakdown in the Athens marathon.

8.50am: Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase, lightweight double sculls.

9.30am: Deborah Flood, Katherine Grainger, Francis Houghton and Annie Vernon strike out for gold in the women's quad sculls.

10.05am: Rebecca Romero and Wendy Houvenaghel threaten a gold and silver one-two on the cycle track – another success for Britain's riders.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific