Gerry Sutcliffe, the Minister for Sport, talked yesterday about the need for Britain's Olympians to provide a return on the £500m invested in them. Perhaps he had noticed that it was exactly 100 years ago that the country finished an Olympics with its record medals haul and at minimal cost.
Britain won 146 medals, including 56 golds, at the 1908 Olympics, which were held in London after Rome pulled out following an explosion of Mount Vesuvius. It helped that entries were thin – five of the six competitors in the motorboating were British and there were no overseas competitors whatsoever in the rackets tournament – but the return was still good value. The budget for the Games was just £20,000, of which a third was spent on banquets.
A century later the British Olympic Association is refusing to set a medals target, but officials know that questions will be asked if its team does not deliver. UK Sport, which distributes Lottery funding to elite performers, told the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, which scrutinises Government spending, that it expects 35 medals and an eighth-place finish in the table.
That would be a significant improvement on the 30 medals and 10th place in Athens four years ago, but Sutcliffe believes it is a reasonable target, given the unprecedented levels of funding that have ensured Britain is sending its best prepared team ever.
"If you look at it from public finance, we've put £500m into elite sports and what we've got to try and do is make sure there's a recovery of that in terms of the outcomes," the minister said. "It wasn't a target that we put to UK Sport. UK Sport themselves decided that's what we should expect from the amount of investment that's gone in.
"I think people have recognised the amount of investment that has gone into sport over the last 10 years, but they will certainly measure that by outcomes and that's why these Games will be important because we've handed the opportunity to give the athletes time to train."
Simon Clegg, the BOA's chef de mission, said here yesterday at the British team's pre-Olympic launch that he expected "an extremely successful Games". Colin Moynihan, the chairman, said he would be looking to the team to improve on Athens, given that they were "better prepared, better financed and better resourced than ever".
Dave Brailsford, British Cycling's performance director, stressed that he had not set a medals target for his riders but added: "We have to move forward. We have a well-financed and well-organised elite system and we have to look at improving. I would think it unacceptable if we didn't move forward."
Led by cycling, sailing and rowing, which have provided the backbone of success at the last two Olympics, the British team are being tipped in some quarters to enjoy their best Games for 100 years. The biggest haul since London in 1908 came 12 years later at Antwerp, where Britain won 43 medals.
This year's British team comprises 313 athletes in 20 of the 28 sports (there are no entries in table tennis, wrestling, football, basketball, volleyball, handball, softball or baseball), a 15 per cent increase on Athens.
Most will stay in the athletes' village, which Clegg described as the best he had seen. "It's an amazing Olympic village and certainly raises the bar for future organising committees," he said.
Each arriving Briton attends a welcoming presentation, which includes a motivational film. "We remind them that they are joining a very exclusive club," Clegg said. "Since the modern Games began only 6,519 people have represented Great Britain. Money can't buy a place in it."
The BOA is also bringing over 160 youngsters representing some of Britain's best medal hopes for 2012. Its Olympic Ambition Programme has attracted the interest of other countries and Chicago is already looking at a similar scheme as part of its bid to host the 2016 Games. "If you can bring these young hopefuls here and allow them to become immersed in the Games and see what it takes to win medals, then I think that will be very helpful for them in the future," Clegg said.
Moynihan said that other countries were looking to follow Britain's stance on drugs, with Dwain Chambers the latest victim of the BOA's policy of lifetime Olympic bans on drugs cheats. "We have to be ahead of the game," he said. "The challenge is to make sure there is more competition between athletes than between chemists' laboratories."
Brailsford welcomed more rigorous drug testing and said the best news in cycling was that a new generation of riders was determined to keep the sport clean. "They are looking out and pointing their fingers at people who may be doping," he said. "That's quite a shift from decades ago."
l Beth Tweddle will not take part in the vault and beam gymnastics competitions because of a rib injury. However, the 2006 world asymmetric bars champion said she would compete in the floor exercise and bars, her two strongest events.
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Phillips Idowu (athletics, triple jump)
Christine Ohuruogu (athletics, 400m)
Shanaze Reade (cycling, BMX)
Bradley Wiggins (track cycling, individual pursuit)
Men's team pursuit (track cycling)
Victoria Pendleton (track cycling, sprint)
Chris Hoy (track cycling, keirin)
Ben Ainslie (sailing, Finn)
Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson (sailing, Yngling)
David Price (boxing, super-heavyweight)
Craig Fallon (judo, 60kg)
Tim Brabants (canoeing, K1 1,000m)
Men's four (rowing)
Women's quad sculls (rowing)
Lightweight men's double sculls (rowing)
Heather Fell (modern pentathlon)
Women's 4x400m relay
Rebecca Romero (below, track cycling, individual sprint)
Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes (sailing, 49er)
Paul Goodison (sailing, Laser)
Euan Burton (judo, 81kg)
Aaron Cook (tae kwon do)
Frankie Gavin (boxing, lightweight)
Anna Hemmings and Jess Walker (canoeing, K2, 500m)
Rebecca Adlington (swimming, 800m freestyle)
Cassie Patten (swimming, 10k open water)
Tom Daley and Blake Aldridge (diving, 10m synchro)
Men's double sculls (rowing)
David Davies (swimming, 10k open water)
Tim Don (triathlon)
Men's team (archery)
Three day eventing team competition (equestrianism)
Mark King (equestrianism, three-day eventing)
Kelly Sotherton (athletics, heptathlon)
Greg Rutherford (athletics, long jump)
Chris Hoy (track cycling, sprint)
Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins (track cycling, madison)
Men's team sprint (track cycling)
Emma Pooley (road race cycling)
Andy Murray (tennis, men's singles)
Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield (sailing, 470)
Bradley Saunders (boxing, welterweight)
Billy-Joe Saunders (boxing, light-welterweight)
Karina Bryant (judo, heavyweight)
Sarah Stevenson (right, tae kwon do)
Beth Tweddle (gymnastics, uneven bars)
Louis Smith (gymnastics, pommel horse)
Campbell Walsh (canoeing, K1 slalom)
Rebecca Adlington (swimming, 400m freestyle)
David Davies (swimming, 1,500m freestyle)
Gemma Lowe (swimming, 200m butterfly)
Hannah Miley (swimming, 400m IM)
4 x 200m freestyle relay (swimming, women)
Richards Faulds (shooting, double trap)
Alan Wills (archery, individual)
Women's team event (archery)
Anthony Clark and Donna Kellogg (badminton, mixed doubles)
Showjumping team event (equestrianism)
Katy Livingston (modern pentathlon)