Team GB athletes returned to the United Kingdom on Tuesday morning to the adoration of the waiting British public eager to celebrate their record success at the Rio Olympic Games, although the cheers were put on ice when they arrived at baggage reclaim with all 320 athletes and staff collecting identical kit bags.
British athletes returned home to London Heathrow shortly before 10:00 on Tuesday aboard the newly-renamed “victoRIOus” British Airways flight, complete with 320 athletes and support staff and 77 additional bottles of champagne, while everyone on board the flight will be offered a three-course meal.
All 27 of Team GB’s gold medal winners were allocated a place in first-class as reward for their success, although many had already left Rio after their success came in the first week of competition. Andy Murray, Justin Rose, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Jason Kenny and Laura Trott had all left Brazil earlier than the bulk of their Team GB colleagues.
Non-medal winners had to make do with a place in economy while silver and bronze medallists were treated to business class for the flight home.
The seating plan caused little disruption though, with Team GB athletes all smiles as they departed in Rio, and the method has been seen as another incentive for athletes planning to compete in Tokyo in four years’ time to push even harder in order to gain similar recognition among their teammates.
The news got even better upoin their arrival in London after it was guaranteed that funding increase across the next eight years in a bid to build on the phenomenal medal haul had been confirmed, with plans already being put into place to make Tokyo 2020 even more successful. The British Olympic Association [BOA] has been granted a 29% increase in funding for elite athletes, with officials already eyeing a better medal return than the 67 that were won in Rio de Janeiro in the most successful Games Britain has ever seen overseas.
Sir Hugh Robertson, BOA vice-chairman, told BBC Radio 5 Live: "The National Lottery funding is reasonably secure in any event because that relies on people buying their lottery tickets week in, week out and incidentally, if you haven't done so please do so because this supports our Olympic athletes.
"The Exchequer, under the previous Chancellor, offered us an amazingly good settlement at the last public spending review of a 29% increase in elite athlete funding so the combination of those two things will offer us security through to Tokyo and beyond and enable us to invest in athletes in the way that we've done in the past to deliver success."
While Robertson was confirming the future of British Olympics is secure, Team GB athletes were enjoying the party atmosphere aboard flight number BA2016, with pictures uploaded to social media before take-off revealing that the champagne was already flowing.
No sooner than the British athletes return to London than planning for Tokyo kicks into gear, and with the future of the Olympic team secured, Robertson believes there is no reason why an even greater medal haul can’t be achieved in Japan in four years’ time.
Robertson added: “This is a very competitive business - the time margins that separate success and failure at Olympic sport are tiny - but set against this, nobody ever thought that we would do better in Rio than we did in London and by the same token there is no reason, given the fundamental structure of British Olympic sport and the way it is geared to deliver medal success that we shouldn’t have a very, very good games indeed in Tokyo.”
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