Strict medal targets for British athletes at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics are under review.
Team GB finished second on the medal table five years ago winning 67 medals, including 27 gold, and UK Sport had been equally bullish in their 2020 demands.
Initially a range of 51-92 podium places was set with then culture secretary Matt Hancock insisting he expected British athletes to remain an ‘Olympic powerhouse’.
The British Olympic Association steadfastly refuse to put a target on their team, who have benefited from nearly one billion pounds of funding to finish second, third and fourth on the medal table at the last three Games.
“We don’t have a target and I really don’t think UK Sport will either,” said team chef de mission Mark England.
“It has been very obvious that any competition data in terms of where we stand against our main competitors across the world really just isn’t there.
“We have snatches of data from limited competitions and that only builds so much of a picture.”
UK Sport - which is funded by government and National Lottery money - traditionally provides sports with strict performance targets, with failure to deliver often leading to savage cuts for the following Games. Badminton was given £5.7m in the build-up to Rio and initially awarded nothing for Tokyo.
However, the uncertainties caused by the pandemic means UK Sport are now willing to show latitude when they announce their Tokyo 2020 ambitions early next month – with normally bold ambitions expected to be dramatically diluted.
“The big discussion is what we do around the targets because we have always based them in the past on the performances in the lead up to the Games,” said UK Sport chair Dame Katherine Grainger.
“We are discussing it with the sports and the sports themselves have targets in mind. But how far we go to publishing them, we are still in discussion. It might be an unhealthy distraction to a lot of the sports at this point.
“There are a lot of very grown up conversations we have had throughout the pandemic. Where are the sports up to? What are realistic expectations?
“For some, they cannot meet those expectations yet because they haven’t had the international competition. In the sports I have had close contact with, there is still an ambition there.
“It is not a sense of not wanting to see targets or dampening down expectations. There is still a huge amount of ambition. It is just the lack of information means we cannot set numbers right now.”
Many of Britain’s proven performers are struggling for these Games. Four-time gold medallist Mo Farah has yet to run his qualifying time, while double triathlon champion Alistair Brownlee admitted his ambitions were over after a disappointing display in Leeds last weekend.
In addition, hosts Japan are predicted to be podium regulars with China and Australia also expected to improve on their Rio performances.
“What’s been very obvious over the past 12 months is the delay to the Games has given an opportunity for young athletes to be stronger and put themselves in contention, put their hand up and demonstrate the desire and attitude to be selected,” added England, whose Team GB athletes’ exploits in Tokyo will be broadcast live on Eurosport and discovery+.
“You will see a top, top competitive team represent Great Britain and we are excited to see what they can do.”
Data company Gracenote are pessimistic in their predictions, claiming they expect British athletes to win 11 golds in Japan and 36 medals in total - just over half of the total won in Brazil.
However, they were well off the mark five years ago and Covid-19 makes the normal metrics for their predictions a precarious business in already uncertain times.
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