Accelerated Nation

An Uncharitable Examination of the Parlous State of British Sport at the Olympic Games

Posted in Great Britain, Olympics, sports by Ashley on 2010/02/24

The British practically invented sports.  They are credited with bringing bobsled (defiantly called “bobsleigh” in the UK), curling, badminton, bowling, boxing, canoeing, cricket, croquet, darts, golf, hockey, ice skating, all sorts of mountaineering, rowing, rugby, skiing (despite a curious lack of ski slopes), all forms of tennis, most equestrian events, water polo, weightlifting, yachting, shooting, fencing and archery into the world.  The modern Olympics seem engineered for their enjoyment.

Too bad the British are so bad at them.

The 2010 Winter Olympics have been notable for lacking many things –like snow, cold temperatures and Canadians atop the podium.  But no one misses the British.  Why?  Because they’re never on the podium at the Winter Games.  They have participated in all 20 Winter Olympiads and won just 22

medals. Not 22 gold medals.  Twenty-two medals.  And the only one anyone can remember is Jayne Torvill & Christopher Dean’s masterful Bolero

Torvill & Dean: A Rare British Success

at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo.  That win gave Great Britain its only medal that year and, after winning, the better half of the pair promptly moved to Colorado.

It’s a sad testament to ability that even when rugby was a Summer Olympic sport Britain didn’t win.  The best they could muster was the silver, in both 1900 and 1908.

Anglophiles will point out (no doubt) that Britain is the third most medaled country.  This is true.  The country has won a whopping 736 medals at 46 Olympiads. 

Of course, it earned 146 of them at the 1908 London Olympics before the advent of standardized judging.

And when British “fair play” was curbed by – well – rules, its performance cratered.  After 1908, Great Britain has managed to struggle into the top 5 in the medal count only 4 times – in 1912, 1920, 1924 and 2008 (when Britain stupefied the world by finishing 4th).

Even including 1908, Great Britain has won an average of only 16 medals per Olympiad.  By contrast, the United States (2,511 medals in 45 Olympiads) has won an average of 56, the Soviet Union (1,204 in 18 Olympiads) earned an astounding 66 and tiny Finland (450 in 43 Olympiads) has scooped up an average of 10.

Compared with the big former “colonies”, the country’s performance is even more dismal.  Only Canada, suffering from its own Olympic woes despite a C$127m injection of cash, performs as badly:


Canada – 1:89,000

Great Britain: 1,82,000

Australia – 1:50,228

New Zealand – 1:49,425

But all might not be lost.  In 2012 London will become the only city to host three Olympiads, and the third time is always a charm.