Ben Hunt-Davis tells a story about the Sydney Olympics. On the Games’ second day, before the rower won his gold in the coxed eights, Britain’s first gold came from cyclist Jason Queally in the men’s 1km time trial. And Hunt-Davis had never heard of him.
That could never happen now. This is the Team GB games, and nothing matters more than unity. Earlier this week, at the team’s preparation camp at Loughborough University, this message was behind everything else, from the kit to the training and education. The 542 athletes can barely move for reminders of what they have in common.
But this new spirit will be necessary. The Team GB athletes all share the same burden of representing the host nation. Of course, this should be an advantage, but it is not necessarily. Before the weight can be harnessed it must first be controlled. Dr Marco Cardinale, head of sports science and research for the British Olympic Association, told The Independent how keen he was to mould a team that could convert this potential.
“I have to say that having the games at home always triggers a few more issues,” admitted Cardinale, who joined the BOA in 2005. “In Italy [Cardinale’s home country], we never had any issues with selection or appeals. So this is all new to me. But our Australian colleagues were saying they had the same issue when they had the Sydney Olympics [in 2000]. Because you are in a home games, the pressure is amplified.”
This means a very different sort of pressure from what Team GB, and Cardinale, faced four years ago. “The focus at Beijing was more on the challenges of the environment,” he explained. “This one, the biggest thing is competing at home, which is a great boost but also takes a lot of stress on you because the pressures are different. So the focus has been different: rather than the external environment it has been the internal environment. I can sense that the pressure is a lot larger.”
What this demands is the strongest possible team ethic: the strongest foundations can bear the most weight. “The main thing this time round has been really creating this environment, this ethos of Team GB, which really permeates every environment we go through,” Cardinale said. “So there’s been a lot of work going into trying to make people understand that it’s all about one team. And there is this sense that everyone is doing the same thing, everyone is representing his country, everyone is trying to do the best they can every time. I think that helps in creating this unity of vision.”
And nothing conveys visual unity better than the kit. It might sound trite but like any uniform, the Team GB clothing does reinforce the team ethic. “One of the simple things to bring people together is kit,” Hunt-Davis said, highlighting the quality of this year’s kit compared to the worse-looking offerings from his Olympic Games in 1992, 1996 and 2000. As recently as 2008, the British kit was said to be too similar to France. That could not be said this time.
Beyond the aesthetic element, there is unity from the shared process too. All 542 athletes will head to Loughborough to be fitted for 67 items of Adidas kit – their training wear, village wear and presentation suits, and 24 items of Next formal-wear. Denise Lewis (below), who won gold at Sydney, described kitting-out as “joyous”, as it marked the start of the team experience.
Everything at Loughborough is geared towards the team experience. Speaking in and about the Powerade Lounge, a facility for athletes, Dr Cardinale said: “Creating the right places for people, this is probably a good example of creating a special ethos about the team, creating this special feel that you belong to something really unique.”
Of the BOA’s education and awareness programme, using sports psychologists, Cardinale said: “We’ve done a lot of work with the First Games Home Games campaign [FGHG]. Not just educating the athletes but educating the families, because that’s the key. So, through the FGHG campaign and the friends and family programme, a lot of people will have been educated to the best way of dealing with the stress or pressure of the Games.”
Some sports may require extra help. No one needs to tell Ryan Giggs how to handle pressure. “There are a number of team sports that don’t get any media profile whatsoever,” Dr Cardinale said, as the men’s handball team walked through, looking particularly natural. “They are not used to having all the attention and the scrutiny. But a lot have been trained to understand the pressures, and understand social media. And people will learn. Because they have to.”
Powerade is the official hydration partner for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Powerade will be hydrating Team GB athletes at the Games and offering hydration advice and tools to help them enhance their performance. For further information please visit www.poweradegb.com