Olympic Gold medal winning team
The GB Cycling Team is at the pinnacle of British sporting excellence. Its athletes have dominated the medal table in the past three Olympic Games. It has set the standard by which elite sporting success in this country is measured. We are one of the strongest nations in competitive cycling. We’re not going to recite all the achievements; you can find the full medal history here.
That’s remarkable when, if you go back to 1996, British cyclists won, er, just two bronze medals. Talk about going through the gears.
The organisation behind its success is Manchester-based British Cycling, which describes itself as “one of the world’s leading national governing bodies thanks to our ability to harness mass participation from international success.” The reasons behind GB Cycling Team’s success are many.
You can point to the impact of Sir Dave Brailsford, the former performance director, with his focus on the “aggregation of marginal gains” - the relentless search for tiny, incremental improvements in performance that add up to a decisive advantage.
You can point to the world-class facility that is now called HSBC UK National Cycling Centre. Or you can point to its ruthless Darwinian selection regime. Each year, approximately 70 riders train as apprentices, with 16 or so making it into the academy programme, which hones them for elite competition. Eight will join the squad that is to prepare for the next Olympic Games. “From the original group, one athlete on average will win a gold medal,” notes Murad Ahmed in a long and absorbing article in the FT.
It’s also worth noting the organisation’s obsession with data. Data drives the so-cllaed “Readiness Index” (RI) which assesses each rider’s potential, logging physiological and performance indicators, as well as qualities such as whether riders show “grit” or bouncing back after a setback.
Yes, the culture and the personnel of the organization have been under pretty bruising scrutiny. Allegations have been made of sexism and discrimination. MPs have claimed it has "crossed the ethical line" on at least one occasion, even if it hasn't actually been shown to have broken any rules. Senior figures have quit.
And of course competitor pressure is always there. According to head coach Iain Dyer, in this interview with Cycling Weekly: “We are not experiencing one nation that is dominating across the board. Instead we have pockets of excellence from given nations, who in certain disciplines are – by luck or by strategy – excelling in those positions."
But GB Cycling Team is a medal factory. And it demonstrates how focus, obsession and a clear determination to push things to the limit can yield startling, world-beating results.