You don't have to be the biggest, the tallest or the lightest to win an Olympic medal - but it helps


Jerome Taylor
Thursday 02 August 2012 10:52

When Britain won the Olympic bid it launched a talent spotting scheme to look for potential gold medal winners. Plenty of other countries – such as China, Russia, Korea and the USA – have long used such schemes to find show-stopping talent.

But Britain has traditionally relied on amateurs to make their own way through their individual events before coming to the attention of national teams and coaches.

But this time scouts went out looking, knocking on school doors, visiting local sports centres, chatting up coaches to see if they could find the next generation of medal winners. UK Sport also put out adverts calling on people to sign up to their so-called “Sporting Giants” scheme - what we needed were unusually tall people who could compete in rowing, volleyball and handball.

Glover was already sporty. Her favourite events were cross-country running, tennis, swimming and hockey. But in the end she became an Olympic rower.

“They tested 4,500 of us in groups of 200 at a time,” recalled Glover today after celebrating her sensational win with fellow rower Heather Stanning. “I remember sitting in a room in Bisham Abbey and someone saying: ‘A gold medallist in 2012 could be sat in this room. Look around you’. I thought: ‘Right, I’m going to make that me.’ It was quite surreal.”

There are now ten “Sporting Giants” who have won the right to play for their country, often competing in sports that they never even knew they were any good at.

As talent schemes have evolved, so has the sheer variety of body types on show at the Games. Unusually tall people are pushed towards basketball, volleyball and handball; scouts keep an watchful eye out on any child with large hands and a knack for swimming whilst light framed boys and girls are honed from an early age in gymnastics.

This summer’s Games is no exception. Whether it’s the freakishly swollen thighs of road cyclists, to the shoulder wings on swimmers or the eye-watering bulk of weightlifters an entire gamut of physiques is on display. The tallest athlete is Zhaoxu Zhang, a Chinese basketball player who defies the diminutive stereotype of his compatriots at seven foot two. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the pint sized Japanese gymnast Asuka Teramoto, a four foot five bundle of acrobatic prowess who weighs in at just 30kg.

Spare a thought then for the judo players who have to go up against Ricardo Blas Junior, known among his fans in Guam as “The Little Mountain.” When he first made an appearance at Beijing on a wild card he smashed all the records for being the heaviest athlete in the history of the Olympics at 210kg. In the intervening four years he has put on another eight kilos bringing him to 34 stone. But sheer size isn’t always a boon - even in the heavyweight judo division. At Beijing, Blas Jnr lost all his fights.

For Britain, however, there is no doubt that our quest for tall, athletic people has paid dividends. Britain’s handball team now contains four players who had never even played the sport five years ago. Bobby White, the team’s captain, was a semi-professional footballer before he applied and made the switch to handball. Within months of his application being accepted he was training in Denmark under a full time contract.

“No matter what happens for me and the team now, over the last five years I’ve been on an incredible journey that I never thought I would take,” he said the week before the Olympics kicked off.

The hope now is that the talent schemes put in place for London 2012 will continue to pay dividends for the future. A similar scheme to get more women into sport – Girls4Gold – was launched two years ago with the intention of targeting Rio 2016.

“It’s not just about London,” Chelsea Warr, head of athlete development at UK Sport told The Independent. “We’re getting pretty good at putting these systems in place and we’ll be a good threat in the future. If you look around the world countries are being much more pro-active at identifying people who can compete at the highest level. That’s what we’re doing.”

All sizes and all shapes....

Ricardo Blas Jnr – The heaviest athlete in Olympic history, Guam born Blas Jnr weighs 34 stone. In Beijing he lost all his matches.

Asuka Teramoto – At four foot five, Teramoto is even smaller that Britian’s pint sized gymnast Rebecca Tunney. She weighs a tiny 30kg.

Zhaoxu Zhang – Chinese basketball player Zhaoxu Zhang is the tallest athlete at the Games. He comes in at a sizzying 7’3”.

Michael Phelps – At 6’42 Phelps is not the tallest swimmer but his incredible 6’7” wingspan and his long torso has helped him become both the world’s most successful swimmer and Olympian.

Ye Shiwen – The 16-year-old swimming prodigy is where she is because a primary school teacher spotted her unusually large hands and feet.

Robert Forsermann – A lifetime of track cycling has turned Forsermann’s thighs into muscled tree trunks. A photo of his quads posted earlier this week went viral.

Fabio Scozzoli – . Swimmer’s shoulders are always flexible but Scozzoli’s almost look double jointed. When he hits the water you can see his muscles flatten out, almost as if they are fins.

Tuau Lapua Lapua – At 4’7” he may be the shortest male athletes but Lapua Lapua packs a punch. He can easily lift his own bodyweight.

Carl Myerscough – Britain’s biggest athlete stands a remarkable 6’10” and weighs more than 25 stone. The muscle helps. Myerscough is the British record holder in shot put

Anthony Joshua – Size matters when it comes to superheavyweight boxing and Watford born Joshua fits right in at 6ft 6in and 18 stone.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments