Responding to questions and veiled accusations from Team GB’s rivals, British Cycling’s head coach has said that a lot of teams “simply haven’t shown up” at the Olympics. Ian Dyer added that the British squad peaks for the Olympics not only athletically, but also when it comes to research and innovation.
Australian sprinter Anna Meares, a 2012 gold medal winner, has been among those perplexed by British success. Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, she said:
“The British are just phenomenal when it comes to the Olympic Games, and we’re all just scratching our heads going: ‘How do they lift so much when in so many events they have not even been in contention in the world championships?’
“It’s been tough because you come in here with hope, and you come in here with strong performances at world level for a number of years and then at the Olympic Games it seems like you’re just not in competition with that nation. So they’ve got it together, and to be honest I’m not exactly sure what they’ve got together.”
Meares won bronze in the keirin this year behind GB’s silver medallist, Becky James, but could only manage 10th in the individual sprint. She was perhaps one of those to whom Dyer was referring when he spokes about athletes who were “simply not at their best.”
Speaking to The Guardian, he said: “If you look at some of the times that have been done here, some of the teams simply haven’t shown up. That’s the bottom line … Some of the people here are not even performing at the level of the world championships.”
Meares has since tweeted: “I would like to clarify that I never said or insinuated that
#TeamGB are cheating or doing anything suspicious!”
A brief statement attached to that tweet reads: “What I said was, it makes me scratch my head to think how we can be better competitive with them at the Olympics. That’s what great rivals, champions and teams like GBR do. They’re an amazing team and their athletes and staff deserve the success that’s come their way.”
Dyer emphasised that for Team GB, the Olympics is the overwhelming focus and a time when many different strands come together.
“While we peak athletically for the Olympics, we also peak in our research and innovation for the Olympics … The helmets we are using here, for example, we used in 2012 but haven’t used them since 2012 until now. The bikes obviously are new, the first time. And no end of different components and strategies are only appearing for the first time.”
This, of course, is understandable. Much of the cycling team’s huge budget hinges on Olympic performance. The £30.2m handed over by UK Sport also dwarfs the £18.6m allocated to Australia’s cyclists.
Indulging himself with a ‘marginal gains’ reference, Dyer said that his team effectively had the luxury of being able to focus on every detail.
“We’ve got a really great team of people doing a fantastic job and who will go to the ends of the earth looking for that final marginal gain. It’s all about marginal gains, isn’t it? That’s what we have become famous for. The low-hanging fruit disappeared years ago. There was a lot of talk of people catching up because they just saw the gains that we had started to make was stuff they could copy and emulate. Now the devil is in the detail. The marginal gains have never been more marginal and aggregating that together has never been more important.”
But beaten rivals will continue to ask questions. French cyclist Michael D’Almeida, part of the sprint trio that came third to Jason Kenny, Callum Skinner and Philip Hindes, said: “We are human beings like them, we are made of the same stuff, we have a bike like they do, so why are they better?”
Kristina Vogel, part of the gold medal winning German team sprint squad in 2012, seemingly went even further. Describing the Brits as ‘cannon fodder’ at other competitions since London 2012, she said: “I don’t want to accuse anyone of anything, but it’s certainly questionable. They come en masse at this high level and I have no idea how they do it.”
Vogel wondered out loud whether the Brits perhaps didn’t train for three years before concluding: “They must be doing something right.”