Olympic Success? Altius, Altius, Altius

By London_Duncan Last edited 136 months ago
Olympic Success? Altius, Altius, Altius

Last time we looked at the Olympic motto there was some stuff in there about Fastest and Strongest, but apparently we've given those attributes too much attention in the past. Yesterday in Trafalgar Square saw the launch of "Sporting Giants", a search fronted by five times gold medallist Sir Steve Redgrave (6' 5ΒΌ" / 1.96m) for, basically, tall young people who will be invited to join programs that will hopefully turn them into the winners we so desperately crave for London 2012.

Now we're right behind pretty much any initiative that will prevent the Band of Her Majesty's Coldstream Guards wearing out their copies of "The Star Spangled Banner", "March of the Volunteers" and "Advance, Australia Fair" in five years' time, but rummaging around for very tall people in the hope that their sheer height might somehow propel them to sporting stardom seems a bit desperate to us. Goodness only knows what the current members of Britain's rowing, handball and volleyball squads make of the suggestion that previously untried members of the public might have a better chance of medal success than those who have slogged their way to the top of their sports over many years. From the sounds of Simon Hart in the Sunday Telegraph such sentiments wouldn't be without foundation:

When a trial of the recruitment campaign was launched to seek prospective handball players, only six men and one woman were chosen from 180 candidates. Those seven face a further three months of "talent confirmation" before they make the squad. "We want to see if they are a thriver, a survivor or a decliner," said Miss [Chelsea] Warr [UK Sport's performance consultant]. "The initial characteristics of an individual are a very small part of knowing whether they have genuine talent."

Quite. So why are we bothering with this then?

Scepticism aside, we were also left wondering whether this sort of apparent discrimination wasn't prohibited in these modern days? Initial conversations with a legal consultant suggest not, though it's good to know that when there's a danger that a high-profile initiative might be seen as politically incorrect or less than serious you can rely on sport minister Richard Caborn to avoid any unfortunate turns of phrase.

Sporting Giants will give taller athletes the chance to reach the peak of their potential by... introducing them to the high-performance environment. The home crowd will want to see the best of British talent when London hosts the Olympic Games in 2012. This campaign will help us to meet those high expectations.

We await his speech at the launch of the search for Britain's dormant coxes, jockeys and flyweight powerlifters with morbid curiosity.

Picture of a lad from Regent's Park who might make the volleyball side via jspad's Flickr stream.

Last Updated 28 February 2007

"Goodness only knows what the current members of Britain's rowing [...] squads make of the suggestion"

And how many of that rowing squad do you think are under the target height as it is? This isn't going to block short-arses from those squads, it's just recognising that over the years tall people prevail in these sports.

If nothing else this will prompt taller people to consider some of the minority sports that they might not have previously looked at.

Australia (taking a leaf out of the DDR coaching manual) go into schools at various ages and grade kids according to various metrics and suggest which sports might be best to their current state of development. Sounds like good sense to me.



Perhaps if those involved had gone about things differently it might have been beneficial. The whole "Sporting Giants" thing just seems so cringeingly clumsy. I'm struggling to think of a strategy more likely to put a tall, not-already-sporty person off getting involved and if the aim is really to poach tall players of more popular sports they should do that much more subtly and certainly shouldn't be raising false hopes in non-sporty folk.

Your reasoning about prevalent characteristics in successful athletes in certain disciplines has some prima facie validity, but is torpedoed by UK Sport's own [Australian] performance consultant herself in the piece - "The initial characteristics of an individual are a very small part of knowing whether they have genuine talent." So why not look at all of the elements rather than investing a lot of money and effort and then starting by immediately ignoring anyone under 6 foot 3?

Which leads to another difficulty hinted at in the piece. "Sporting Giants" sounds all heroic and lovely, but it won't help find us coxes or flyweight powerlifters. What are the Olympic suits gonna call THAT search? Or the ones for gymnasts or Super Heavyweight judo players? Or are they not going to do those? If not, why on earth do they think it's a good idea to make so much fuss about this one?

And even if it were a potentially successful strategy I think trying to transplant it from Australia or East Germany fails to take account of the completely different culture here. For better or worse the nation as a whole doesn't take kindly to the idea of being divided up by "boffins" into those who should and should not be encouraged to pursue certain avenues in life, no matter how persuasive the cold logic. Selection of children in such ways tends to ignite particularly strong emotions. The one thing we do seem willing to accept largely without question is selection by wealth which perhaps better explains our poor performance in some sports than a lack of people who physically look the part.