UK Sport and Team GB’s Chef de Mission, Mark England, have differing views on setting a medals target for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, but 2012 gold medallist Greg Rutherford sides with the former. Setting a medals target for the Olympics has been a regular occurrence for all counties competing for several years now.
At Rio 2016, they were expected to win a minimum of 48 medals and blew that target away with their best tally since 1908 with 67, finishing second in the overall table.
Ever since Team GB picked up just 15 medals at the 1996 Olympics, they have been on a meteoric rise in all forms of sport at the Games.
And there were initially big hopes for Great British athletes to continue that trajectory heading into Tokyo 2020.
But the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the competitive calendar over the past 18 months, forcing the Olympics to be postponed by a year.
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Athletes have had little competitive action with a lack of available data caused by numerous lockdowns.
And due to those factors, England is not prepared to set a minimum medals target for Team GB this summer.
UK Sport chief executive Sally Munday differs in setting a target between 45 and 70.
Rutherford admits athletes won’t take any notice of medal targets being set by the officials, but agrees that it can be a good barometer to judge how the investment in each sport is doing.
“It has to all be done correctly and fairly. But I absolutely think, with a country as diverse in our sporting abilities that we have here in the UK, medal targets are right.
“Of course it adds pressure but it doesn’t really add pressure to the athletes as such because when medal targets are put out there, they’re not turning around saying ‘you the individual has to win a medal’, they want the sport itself.
“I knew there was medal targets for London, for Beijing, for Rio and everything else but it never bothered me from the point of view that I HAD to get one, I was solely focused on my own performance.
“And going into London and Rio in particular, I went in there trying to win those championships and that was irrespective of what was going on around it.”
The athletes will make their way into the Olympic stadium for the first time on Friday for the opening ceremony, but no fans will be in attendance throughout the two weeks of the event.
And Rutherford, who won Long Jump gold on “Super Saturday” at London 2012 in front of a raucous crowd, sympathises with the athletes who will miss out on that part of the experience.
“I’ve spoken to quite a few and they all appreciate that it’s going to be different,” he added.
“They all know that it’s maybe not going to be as fun as an Olympic Games can be. For anyone who it’s their first Games, I feel really sorry for them because they’re not going to have that experience and it could be their first and last.
“They won’t have as positive an experience. If they win a gold medal of course they’ll have a positive experience, but a lot of what the Olympics are about is that interaction with other people.
“Things like the village, they’re now in a situation where they’re not going to be able to meet with everybody around or go sit in the dinner hall and hang out with mates from different countries because they’re going to be separated off so that’s difficult.
“No crowds is difficult. I was somebody who loved a crowd. That will make things slightly difficult. Some athletes may enjoy it but I think for most they love performing in front of people.”
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