How To Win 65 Medals

I’m writing this just before the 2012 Olympic closing ceremony is due to begin.

The results are in and they’re pretty amazing.

Here’s a wee table I put together for you…


In the 40 years to 2004, Team GB managed an average of 24 medals per games, 6 being gold.

In 2008 the medal total doubled to 47 and the gold total tripled to 19.


In the 2012 games just closing as I write, we added another third to the astonishing 2008 total making 64 all in, including adding another half to the gold total, with 29.  

This is astonishing, and we haven’t done this well since the days when we were wearing the linen suits and everyone else was serving the G&Ts.

So how did this happen?

1. Focus on Strengths

UK Sport, who spends the National Lottery cash on elite sports, decided to focus on thirty sports instead of the previous 110. (There are 110 sports?)

Moreover, in each sport, they focused on coaching the strongest competitors and if you didn’t make the grade you were chopped –

“Sorry Jenkins, we appreciate your four years of effort, but we won’t be needing you in the summer. We prefer the cut of Smither’s jib. Chin up! Now run along, there’s a good chap.”

Hardcore. No sentiment. 

Read-across to the ambitious small business owner/middle manager: stop trying to be OK at everything. Be great at something. Our culture tries to make us “rounder” individuals. Resist this siren call! Be sharp as a pin and twice as shiny. (Look – this is not a licence to be a pain in the arse. But focus on your strengths. Mo Farah is not a sprinter. He knows it.)

2. Goal Setting

Yes I am afraid so. At every level: from individual athletes’ ongoing performance month-in, month-out, to the entire Team GB at the Olympics. This keeps everyone on track and allows you to jettison those who are not making the grade. This is hard but whose side are you on? – the winners or the losers? “Participation” by itself is not a goal. It’s that stark.

UK Sport’s goals for 2012 are 48-70 medals with at least 19 gold. (Frankly this is basically “better than last time” and as such is a bit of a cop-out and if I was coaching them I’d call them on it.)

But let’s look at the 2008 goals – now remember the history before then – an average of 24 medals per games including 6 gold. They set a 2008 target of 41 medals with 10 to 12 gold).

Now that takes guts.

Goal setting defines the actions you need to take and gives a means of measuring progress to plan and making changes where required.  

There is a stubborn rump of people who think goal setting is unimportant (they say that but I think there’s something else going on). In my experience this is almost always due to a) I’m financially OK really and I can’t be bothered, I’m really just playing, b) laziness, c) fear of accountability or d) fear of failure.   

Read-across to the ambitious small business owner/middle manager: goal setting is what the pros do. What’s your identity saying to you on this one? Being an amateur is fine, just don’t expect any medals. So are you a pro?

3. A focus on Coaching

This is an obvious one to the sportsters – pay big bucks to get the best coaches in the world, who can short-cut you to being the best you can be.  

Read-across to the ambitious small business owner/middle manager: top sports people have coaches because there’s value to them in improving their performance as quickly as possible.

They have to pay a fortune for the best coaches. This is because there is a thriving demand and an under-supply.

In business, where only the top few percent of really successful business people have understood the importance of coaches, you can get “coached” a lot cheaper (read a book, go on a course, sharpen the saw as Stephen Covey said) and it will have a huge impact on you relative to your fellow competitors because they’re not working on themselves at all.

To summarise…

These three areas in which UK Sports excelled can be summed up as:

  • define your strength
  • define a goal to achieve with your strength
  • get some help

It’s laughably simple.

Now, you may be thinking “but Mark, UK Sports threw money at this problem until it surrendered.”

And you’d be right. £300m quid in the four years to the 2012 games. 500 athletes, roughly. So that’s £150,000 per athlete per year, from 2008 to 2012.


But the average ambitious small business owner/manager doesn’t need this. Not yet. Money is just a resource and sometimes it isn’t the key resource.

Most people I coach have the greatest resources they need at the present time – their brains and their time.

They focus on the three things…

  • define your strength
  • define a goal to achieve with your strength
  • get some help

You don’t need money to do this.  

UK Sports and all the wonderful athletes and everyone involved have written the secret to success across the sky and it’s been there for years.

You can copy them if you want to.  


Now I’ve heard the Spice Girls are reforming for the closing ceremony…I’m off to check that out.

PS I’m away for the rest of August…I’ll be back in early September. Have a lovely holiday, if you haven’t already.

2 Responses to How To Win 65 Medals

  1. Robert Sloss August 13, 2012 at 10:02 am #

    There was a brilliant interview last night with the Chair of UK sport, Baroness Campbell, who explained exactly how it was managed and how they were going to review performance and re-allocate the money accordingly. She even pointed out that sometimes taking the money away has a positive benefit as the sport has to review how they do things and performance improves. She needs to be made head of the Civil Service and bring all her managerial skills to bear on wider issues. The interview should be added to all management training packages.
    Incidentally she was appointed in 2003 and I think your medals table tells the story.

  2. Ian Brodie August 13, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    I think one of the things we also did well was we encouraged broad participation (though still a way to go with that) and then spotted talent to develop.

    If you’re going to focus on the few people/strengths you need a way of identifying the right ones to focus on.

    We also seem to do a good job of building on success. The celebration of our initial success in sports like rowing and later in cycling brought more people into the sport which then gave us a bigger talent pool to draw from. Something to learn from that too.


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