The gathering, summoned to highlight the growing success of the National Lottery scratchcard raising funds for the 2012 London Games, included many athletes who reached Olympian heights without any funding.
For Lynn Davies, winner of the 1964 long jump title in Tokyo, official support amounted to "pocket money" of perhaps a couple of pounds when he was away on a trip.
For Bert Bushnell, winner of the double sculls rowing gold with Richard Burnell when the Games were last in London 57 years ago, such a hand-out would have been regarded as the height of extravagance.
"We didn't get a penny," said the man who was prevented even from working for his father, who owned a boatyard on the Thames, because it would have infringed his amateur status. Now 84, Bushnell wryly recalls how, in those post-war days of rationing, even getting his teeth around a bit of steak took ingenuity. "We didn't get any extra rations before the Games," he said. "But I had two friends in rowing - Mervyn Wood, the Australian sculler, and Grace Kelly's dad, Jack, who came from the United States. They used to have food sent through to them, and so the first thing my mother did was to invite them to supper at our house in Wargrave, which was only three miles from the Olympic course at Henley. Every time they came round they brought my steak with theirs."
Having sold virtually all of their first 11 million Go For Gold scratchcards since 28 July, raising more than £2m towards the 2012 Games, Camelot, who run the National Lottery, announced yesterday they were issuing a second edition of 20 million. National Lottery funding should contribute up to £1.5bn towards the London Games, of which £750m is scheduled to come from Lottery cards.
As of next year, 17-year-old Harry Aikines-Aryeetey will be in the thick of the Lottery bunfight having earned World Class Performance funding through his exploits in July, when he became the first athlete to complete the 100 and 200 metres double at the World Youth Championships.
This affable and self-assured Sutton schoolboy - he is currently studying for A levels in PE and Sociology - is already a PR dream, and if he continues to give evidence of the same level of performance on the track he could be in contention for medals when the Games returns to the British capital. "I will be 23 by that time," he said, "which is when a lot of sprinters have success. Justin Gatlin has been doing the business at the age of 23, so hopefully I will be able to go out there and do the right thing."
He found himself sitting next to the Olympic and world champion earlier this month when he attended the International Association of Athletics Federations Gala in Monaco, and Gatlin offered him some sprinting tips. He laughs incredulously at the recollection. But this is the world he now inhabits.
As this young sprinter looks forward to a year where he will be aiming primarily to earn a medal at the World Junior Championships in Beijing, Aikines-Aryeetey will be able to prepare knowing that Lottery funding will now take care of winter training trips, hotel stays before competitions, travel costs and physiotherapy. "Whenever I feel tight I'll be able to get physio and acupuncture at my local track," he said. "I'm a bit of a baby about the needles. I scream a little bit. The most I've had in my back at one time is six needles - but they really work well."
Bushnell, meanwhile, regards the current system of Lottery funding as wholly acceptable. "There are no amateurs these days, and of course that's OK," he said. "It means you get the best people competing."Reuse content