back to article How talent-spotting boffins help Team GB bag Olympic gold

Fancy a trip to Rio in 2016? Getting on the British Olympics team might be one way of doing it. Sound ridiculous? Maybe not: Helen Glover, who last week won Britain’s first gold medal at London 2012 along with rowing partner Heather Stanning, only started rowing four years ago in 2008. London was her first Olympics competition …


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  1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    Already the debate has begun about school sporting facilities

    I only hope sport at school has improved since I was there (Last century !) Then, sport/PE was seen as a box-ticking exercise. We did it becasue we had to and no-one (not even the teachers) seemed to want to do it.

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      I saw this coming ...

      Roy: I've done questionable things.

      Tyrell: Also extraordinary things. Revel in your time!

      Roy: Nothing the god of biomechanics wouldn't let you in heaven for.

      Works for me!

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      That's just the sort of cynical attitude that is letting our Olympic team down.

      You just have to look at the number of Golds for forward-roll and rope climbing.

      Did any of the competitors have to do it in their pants because they had forgotten their kit?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The link on the main page featured doesn't work for Olympisize me, the article is fine but the quiz link isn't working from it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      works for me using Chrome(ium) v20. Mebbe your browser is the issue?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I just tried it. I'm a 6' stocky male and it recommended....

      Synchronised Swimming.

      Hmmm :-/

  3. MrT

    There's still a place for talent spotting...

    The biggest result for a "discovered" athlete IMO was Adam Gemili - until Jan this year he was concentrating on football as a full-back at Dagenham and Redbridge and yet did brilliantly in the 100m after switching to focus on sprinting. He didn't make the final but he's got plenty of time for that in the future.

    Just like a good PE teacher needs to be enthusiastic and motivated so that this is passed on to the students, a good coach will understand an athlete inside out.

    1. Andrew James

      Re: There's still a place for talent spotting...

      Also, whatever the lads name was, came 4th in the 110 hurdles final last night despite being repeatedly hit by the south african next to him. A few years ago he was running 15 seconds for the 110 hurdles, and the coaching team have got him down to under 13.5. Another few tenths and he's right up at the front in most races.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Maybe start younger

    Finding great sportspeople is great. But soon we won't even have that.

    Kids aren't allowed to play competative sports until senior school (or if they do no score is kept) sports day is no longer manditory, they're talking about making it so PE isn't manditory. By the time the next olympics comes over half our kids will look like those people from wall-e.

    I'm all for encouraging people to take up sports, but we need to start when they're in schools, not when they're fully grown adults who have catching up to do.

    Just an honest opinion here. During the early stages of school, kids should be forced to try a variety of different sports, find what they like and enjoy. I am terrible at sports, most sports. It turns out the only sport I was good at was Rugby, and after the first year I wasn't allowed to play that because I was put into the mixed group for sports because well... I sucked at everything else, so couldn't join the "top" class (best athletes were in boys / girls group. worse were in mixed where we did sweet FA)

    Get kids doing sports young, a wide variety of sports to find out their skills. Then when they get older, rather than having a normal PE where you're told what to do, let them choose what they enjoy doing, rather than forcing them to do soemthing useless they hate (dance).

    Hell, we have plenty of colleges and university courses doing sports courses. Make part of their curriculum that they have to go to a school a few times a week and teach gym, two birds one stone.

    But right now the way we're going by the next olympics kids coming out of school won't even be able to walk propperly (seriously saw a little fat kid the other day who couldn't walk, all he could do was waddle, he actually did look like one of the people from wall-e.)

    1. Magister

      Re: Maybe start younger

      I agree with much of what you say; but I'm not quite sure about "forcing" them.

      Younger children usually want to be active; they have bags of energy and are very curious. They will wnat to try out different things, they probably won't need to be forced. (I accept, not always true) However, as they get older, it will become more difficult and it's highly unlikely that most schools will have the facilities or the adequately trained personnel to do more than the very basic of sports.

      I know that lots of teachers think that because they are a "teacher" they are automatically the only people that should be allowed to teach. However, I would suggest that is utter pigswill; they need to accept that they can't do everything and allow people from outside of teaching to have some influence.

      The teachers could certainly guide children into the right areas; if they show a knack for gymanstics, send them to a local gymnastics club. If they appear to have a burning desire to shoot arrows, there will be a club to allow them to join and improve in that area.

      But I would also like to see the schools allowing some of these external groups access into the school. I know that some do, and where this happens, there can be a really good pickup of young people. But it doesn't happen everywhere; and that is a big shame as the kids lose out and the sports lose out.

      Perhaps we need to be a bit more positive about the way that we treat various sports other than the inevitable football?

      1. Elmer Phud

        Re: Maybe start younger

        Local Primary school brings in people to do sports and various clubs

        (I'm a governor and regularly at school to see what's going on)

        Also uses school staff who have a leaning towards specific sports to run football etc.

        As for those who think that it's all cotton wool and kid gloves - ask the youngsters who do martial arts after school. We did have someone coming in for a term teaching archery but, as with many of these things, it was funded by HM.Gove and dropped within a year.

        It's there but the school doesn't focus on producing winners (which is one issue with the focus on cycling), it focuses on kids enjoying sport - not punishing themselves instead. If any do show a particular talent then they will be noticed, not ignored.

        (Jimmy Edwards as one of his favourite sports was the pint glass lift.)

        1. Magister

          Re: Maybe start younger

          I was a governor until recently and saw several schools at each of the key stages.

          I did highlight that it does happen at some schools, but not all by a long way; and that is the problem. Many schools provide little or no channel to sports outside of the school. Yours was obviously one of the better ones in that regard and your teachers should be congratulated.

          I also have no problem with focusing on enjoyment rather than on winning, particularly at an earlier stage; add competition when it is appropriate. But there are many schools where there is nothing and no desire for any change. This is where the children lose out.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Maybe start younger

            You shouldn't just rely on the school for sports though - have some personal involvement. Our kids have been taught swimming from babies and one could swim freestyle from just before his 3rd birthday and is set to become the youngest ever child in the swim school to make it through the the swim squads level. The school owner has said that it is just a case of nurturing what is a natural ability.

            Tiger Woods showed his ability at 3. The Williams sisters were taught from young and these stars have something in common - it wasn't left to the school to offer up the opportunity, the parents just got on with it. If you think your child it talented or needs a bit of competition then provide it, don't expect someone else to.

        2. Chris 3

          Re: Maybe start younger

          My kids attend a bog-standard East London primary and they do competitive sports at school. Not *hugely* competitive since the emphasis is on them enjoying sport and getting into it (correctly, in my opinion). There are also quite a few lunchtime and afterschool 'taster' sessions they can sign up for where they can do football or street-dance, or whatever for a term.

          I have to commend the Olympic legacy folks - went to a great event in a local park last weekend where kids could try out all manner of sports in short 15 minute sessions , with a bit of coaching. The local sports clubs had been asked along to run the sessions - and if you liked them you could take a card and get your first session at the club free.

          I now have 6 and 9 year old girls who have just been to their first karate class and loved it.

          This combined public sports day/taster thing involving local clubs seems like a brilliant idea and I hope it spreads.

          (I am extremely unsporty, but I'm very glad to see my kids having a rare old time).

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Maybe start younger

        I'm a qualified British Gymnastics coach (I can teach way more than forward roles) The issue I have with school PE teaching is that they teach the children poor (or even worse, wrong) technique. When the children come to our club, we have to spend time un-doing what they've been taught. This then frustrates the children as we're not letting them do the fun or fancy stuff they learnt at school.

        We've offered to go along and help the teachers (show them what/how they should be teaching) but they're not interested.

    2. Elmer Phud

      Re: Maybe start younger

      "Kids aren't allowed to play competative sports until senior school"

      Rubbish - just rubbish.

      Standard regurgitation of pap journalism.

    3. Roger Kynaston Silver badge

      Re: Maybe start younger

      I know that some sports are "expensive" compared to regular ones but how much would it cost to fund the RYA to have a few fleets of oppies (Optimists for the non sailing geek) and encourage interschool regattas - plenty of reservoirs. Then they could graduate to Laser Picos/420s what have you at senior school and we might then get all the golds in Rio rather than let our antipodean friends take most of them.

      Letting a kid be in charge of their destiny would also do wonders for the self esteem of those who aren't quite at the standard of Hannah Mills as well. Who knows, it might even help dissuade a young lad from deciding that selling crack is a good career choice!

    4. electricmonk

      Re: Maybe start younger

      "Kids aren't allowed to play competative sports until senior school (or if they do no score is kept) "

      Newsflash: Some of the things you read in the Daily Mail are Made Up (shock).

      Google for "primary school football results". (or netball, if you prefer.) What's this? Dozens of links to match results, league tables, tournament reports. Well I never. It took me all of 5 seconds' research to disprove that claim. Next!

    5. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: Maybe start younger

      Then when they get older, rather than having a normal PE where you're told what to do, let them choose what they enjoy doing, rather than forcing them to do soemthing useless they hate (dance).

      So how do you do this ? You have a PE class of around 30 boys pupils. Let's assume that:

      - 10 Want to do football

      - 5 Rugby

      - 5 Athletics (various disciplines)

      - 3 Gymnastics (Various disciplines)

      - 3 Basketball.

      - 4 Don't want to be there at all.

      How on earth do you run that 1 hour lesson ?

      1. The Axe

        Re: Maybe start younger

        How do you run a 1 hour lesson? You don't.

        In other words there should not be any PE lessons.

        Let the kids do their sporting activities in their own time. They can play football, basketball, etc during lunch. They can choose amongst themselves to do what they want to do. If something needs specialist training then do it outside of school with proper trainers rather than teachers (who are now being told by their unions not to help out with sports activities).

        Kids have loads of energy given half the chance without teachers with clipboards checking every last H&S detail. So they will run and jump and do lots of stuff to burn off their energy.

  5. YP


    come on El Reg what's happening to you these days?

    'missed out on "guaranteed" team pursuit gold in track cycling' Given that GB won both men's and women's team pursuit gold what are you talking about as the also did not take place on the first weekend? I assume it's the men's road race you are referring to, which as anyone who follows cycling will tell you is never a guaranteed win for anyone, far too many variables

    Just another example of how the standards have slipped recently (don't get me started on the wholesale replacement of Sodium by silicon in another article)

  6. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

    The permanent members of the UN's security council should be made up from the top five nations in the Olympic medal table. That would guarantee we spend on sport.

    1. AlanS
      Thumb Up

      RE: UN Security Council

      I vote for that: the French wouldn't!

  7. The Axe

    Hidden Talents

    Like the "Hidden Talents" programme on CH4 which looked through a large group of people and found what their talents were and put them forward to find the best of each talent group.

  8. KitD

    Elite v grassroots

    Talent ID for the elite programs and encouraging grassroots sport are really 2 completely unrelated topics. If we are to maintain a healthy position in the medal table, then we must continue the elite talent spotting that is only starting to bring rewards.

    Independently, if sport is considered worthwhile, then we need input for all sports at the grassroots. I agree with the poster saying that there should be opportunities for kids to try many sports at school. This requires more funding for local clubs because schools cannot provide the specialist knowledge and equipment needed over many sports. The other change I would like to see is schools not being allowed to make demands on a pupil's time between say 4 - 6pm, freeing them up for other activities.

    However the one change that is almost impossible to engineer is the one that values the activities of kids' on the sports field (or any other worthwhile pastime) far above than those of pointless celebs on TV. Then we might actually get people off the sofa and doing something valuable.

    1. Elmer Phud

      Re: Elite v grassroots

      "However the one change that is almost impossible to engineer is the one that values the activities of kids' on the sports field "

      Too late - schools were encouraged to go for the cash, local boroughs sold off sports centres to private gym companies.

      Huge amounts of wonga spent on ensuring gold's this time, unlikely to be the same for the next Olympics as it wont be in blighty.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It needs to start younger to get people in the right frame of mind from the cradle to grave. If kids are encouraged into sport, then as parents later in life they see sport as important and encourage their kids in turn.

    My mother was a talented swimmer in the 1950's and 60's, she competed at national level. My father played football and did diving at county level. When I was around 8 I took up archery and through my parents tireless devotion and dedication I worked my way up to national level making the junior GB team in the 1980s.

    They'd been sports fanatics during their formative years, they passed it on me. My daughter is 8 and I am encouraging her to try different sports and interests to see if she can find one she really likes doing and wishes to compete in.

  10. fridaynightsmoke

    Why is my money being spent on this?

    That is all.

    1. moonface

      Re: Why is my money being spent on this?

      Fair play for the comment.

      I have loved this Olympics but I am feeling a little uneasy about this and wonder where the future lies. The reason that your (tax) money is spent on this, is for the glory of the State / Establishment and because the government now believes it is responsible for the 'happiness' of it's populace. For some strange reason the majority identify with 'physical strangers \ virtual friends via the media' who accomplish victories and success, as we derive positive emotions from their actions.

      Will the future be some Gattaca dystopia where a small 'tall' percentage of the world, are selected as 'valids' for sports education, to be used for the the glory of their states? Will there be a backlash eventually by the grass roots populace, when they feel, they no longer identify with their chosen lanky athletic heroes? Who knows!

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hmm. According to the website the following sports are most suited to me:

    Water Based Sports, Team Based Sports, Combat and Target Based Sports, Cycling, Racquet or Bat Based Sports, Traditional Olympic Disciplines.

    So pretty much everything. What a dumb algorithm.

    1. electricmonk

      They were just categories - if you click on one of them it shows you exactly *which* sports in that category you're suitable for. For instance in my case it highlighted road cycling specifically, which is lucky as that's what I do. (Sadly I go slower downhill than Wiggo goes uphill, so I won't be in the medals yet awhile.)

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Or, you know, we could just do the logical thing and not care who runs a tenth of a second faster. When it was an amateur's thing, it made sense. But a career in sports?

    1. BoldMan

      Re: Why?

      Why not? Do you not care that the successes of these people can life the spirit and make the country feel good about itself even when other things are miserable and depressing? or would you rather everyone wallow in mediocrity and not been inspired at all?

  13. CynicalOptimist

    Tonnes of lottery funding for what are clearly well run programmes produces great athletes: perhaps not surprising. I would say this is despite the mixed quality of school sports infrastructure/teaching/support. My experience of secondary school sports was that of PE teachers who were bullies, a slavish adherence to the national curriculum which meant lessons often consisted of a couple of weeks learning about a random sport (e.g. volleyball) before moving onto something else without mastering even the basics and sports teams that were run voluntarily (albeit with more enthusiasm and less bullying!) by Geography, English and History teachers.

  14. User McUser

    Trivia Fact

    "When it comes to rowing, the taller the better – ideally six feet and more. Also considered is wing span – the distance from hand tip to hand tip"

    Trivia fact: Your height is the same as your wingspan. Try it yourself; lie down flat on your back and have someone mark the relative positions of your head and feet. Then turn sideways 90° and you'll find your outstretched arms fit nicely between the marks.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Trivia Fact

      Absolute rubbish. Your wingspan may be shorter than you are tall or it may be larger. And doubly rubbish by virtue of the fact that you're taller (or longer if you prefer) when lying down (assuming you're measuring from heel to head) than when you are standing up due to the fact that when lying down you don't have a heavy head pressing down on your body.

      What you say is generally a good enough approximation, but that's all it is and is demonstrably wrong in many cases.

      1. Matt Piechota

        Re: Trivia Fact

        "What you say is generally a good enough approximation, but that's all it is and is demonstrably wrong in many cases."

        Yep. My monkey arms are 80" fingertip to fingertip, but yet I'm 6" short of being 6' 8". Rule of thumb but not accurate.

    2. CmdrX3

      Re: Trivia Fact

      As others have said not entirely accurate, but you are correct in your statement that rowing is generally better suited to taller people as is swimming, whereas shorter people are better suited for longer distance running. As with everything of course there are often exceptions to the rule, Usain Bolt being a prime example of someone who doesn't have the typical sprinters build but excels at his sport. Personally I admire any athlete purely for the hard work, dedication and passion they have, in many cases for little reward other then the pride of their nation and a bit of metal on a ribbon.

    3. Dan 10

      Re: Trivia Fact

      Apparently one of the American swimmers is not as tall as his wingspan and that makes him great at butterfly stroke - he's the one with underarm muscles like batwings.

  15. AdamWill

    silly logic nitpick

    "The basic entry requirement was also strict. Never mind a sneaking sense you’d quite like to give rowing a go, first you had to be tall: the tallest woman on Sporting Giants was 192.7cm (6’4”) and the tallest man 217.3cm (7’2”)."

    That's silly: I can see where you were going, but it's incorrectly demonstrated. If you want to say that 'in order to get into a group of things, a thing needs a certain attribute' you don't cite the member of the group with the _most_ of the attribute - that proves nothing. You cite the member of the group with the _least_ of the attribute. If you told us that the _shortest_ woman on Sporting Giants was, say, 5'10", that would prove (or at least go further towards proving) that you have to be quite tall to get in. Saying that the _tallest_ woman is 6'4" proves exactly nothing, in the context - it leaves entirely open the possibility that the shortest woman was 4'10" or something...

  16. Juan Inamillion

    That's all very well...

    ...but it assumes we have any playing fields left by the time of the next Olympics....

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: That's all very well...

      Since 97% of the medals came from public school kids that probably isn't a problem.

      As long as Eton continues with double dressage on a monday, and the royal family keeps squeezing out sprogs that look like horses the future is guaranteed,

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