James Lawton: Cycling mastermind Dave Brailsford has momentum to inspire another generation

He has the classic combination of hard man style and the trick of motivation

There was no end to the celebrities in the Velodrome when the greatest little show in town completed another sensational Olympic run on Tuesday night. Unfortunately, none of the football players who represented England in their latest penalty shoot-out failure in Kiev were sighted.

This was a great pity because they missed some supreme examples of nerve and grace under the most serious pressure as Britain's gold medal count in the building swelled to an astounding seven out of 10.

The comparison is inevitable the moment you consider the vast resources devoted over the years to the football team, including the £6m-a-year wages paid to former coach Fabio Capello and more recently the not inconsiderable cost of flying them nearly 1,000 miles to their most vital games in Ukraine on account of their need to enjoy pleasant little walks and the occasional cappuccino in some agreeable café in the tourist-friendly city of Krakow, Poland.

In the rush of celebration over the cycling team's second straight invasion of an Olympics, it was certainly amusing to imagine the tolerance level team performance director Dave Brailsford might have applied to the complaints of a Wayne Rooney that he got too easily bored in some out-of-the-way training establishment.

When one of the cycling team's stars, 31-year-old Victoria Pendleton, announced her retirement after a bitterly disappointing silver medal in her final event she said it was time to start a normal life, do things like having the occasional drink and not training hour upon hour, day after day.

She said she had done all she could, which was hardly a confession of underachievement when you remembered the broad outline of her career success : two Olympic gold medals, one silver, nine World Championship golds, five silvers, two bronze, and two European Championship golds and one silver.

The cycling team doesn't do shoot-outs, of course, but then they are no strangers to fine margins, as Sir Chris Hoy reminded us when he held his nerve under a fierce counter-attack from the German Maximilian Levy and came home by 0.065sec. This, of course, delivered him his sixth gold medal.

First we had the historic triumph of Bradley Wiggins in the Tour de France, then he mopped up the Olympic time trial. Then we had the brilliant, hair-trigger slugfest in the Velodrome.

Brailsford, the director of the Wiggins triumphs that ended in the Champs-Elysées and Hampton Court, moved indoors with the usual bristling determination to get the best out of his charges. He has the classic winning combination of a hard-man style and the trick of producing with the highest levels of motivation.

He is not likely ever to have to follow Capello in the admission that he looked out to the field of action and didn't recognise his team.

Brailsford works up close and intensely and when he spoke yesterday of doing in Rio in four years something roughly comparable with the achievements in Beijing and London, we could be sure he had already discussed the possibilities in some depth with a superb and apparently nerveless new generation of natural-born gold medal winners,

Laura Trott, whose final time was beautifully conceived and executed as it knocked her American rival Sarah Hammer out of the lead and provided a second gold medal, was originally programmed for Rio but her progress had been dramatic enough to make her a star of the London boards at the age of 20. Making up the formidable new force, are the other gold medal winners, Jason Kenny and Philip Hindes.

It is a build of strength, you have to believe, that should surely become the model for sustained success on the international stage.

Certainly, in the thrust of its ambition, and the early identification and psychological conditioning of world-class performers, it might just have something to teach the Football Association along with many other areas of British sport.

The basic drive, Brailsford has always made clear, comes from a willingness to accept responsibility and the certainty of some extremely hard years.

When the London bid was landed, and the Government began diverting Lottery funds in pursuit of an impressive showing when the world came to visit, Brailsford saw both the opportunities and the pressure to succeed that had to be met full on.

He declared: "UK Sport and the Government have delivered and there are no excuses now. There are not many nations in the world who are getting the same backing. It is scary because all the obstacles have been removed."

So, he was quick enough to point out, had been the excuses.

When they closed the doors at the Velodrome, after all those sell-out houses, no one could say that there hadn't been spectacular value. This was a team which absorbed all the pressure and invariably kept its nerve.

 



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