What a tournament for Team GB. The squad’s trailblazing performance in Tokyo has been hailed as the greatest achievement in British Olympic history after the team took home 65 medals – matching the tally from London 2012 on the final day of the games.
Decorated British Olympians Laura and Jason Kenny, Charlotte Dujardin and Tom Daley all made an expected return to the podiums, medals glistening at their chests – a triumph for some of the nation’s most-loved sporting heroes.
But there was young blood too. BMXers Beth Shriever, Charlotte Worthington and Kye Whyte kept the nation on the edges of their sofas as they took home a gold, gold and silver respectively, while convincing us all that BMXing is, in fact, very, very cool.
And then there was 13-year-old Sky Brown, bringing skateboarding to the masses, and weightlifter Emily Campbell, thrusting a mammoth 161kg barbell above her head to win silver. And who could forget boxer Lauren Price, the former taxi driver who moved to Sheffield to pursue her dreams of taking home Olympic gold, doing what she set out to do?
This year’s Team GB line-up was one of increasing diversity and inclusivity. There were stories of National Lottery funding, of working-class parents sleeping in their car so they could watch their kids compete in tournaments, of communities scraping money together to fund local athletes.
The relatively recent addition of BMXing (at Beijing 2008), sports climbing, and skateboarding (at Tokyo 2020) to the Olympic programme can only be good news for working-class youngsters. These are sports that any kid can at least try once. Unlike dressage, sailing and the modern pentathlon, they don’t need access to a boat, a horse or a pistol to find out if they’re good at it.
Breakdancing will make its first appearance at the Paris Olympics in three years’ time. Created in the early 1970s in New York – partly as a peaceful way for rival street gangs to settle disputes – breakdancing is the art of kids who dance along to YouTube and TikTok videos. It is the sport of snapbacks, head-spins, knee-drops and backflips, utilising elements of martial arts, gymnastics and sometimes yoga. It is a sport that requires nothing except a body and a speaker. It’s an art kids can practice from the comfort of their living rooms.
Last week the British Olympic Association’s chief executive Andy Anson spoke of the need to make sure the legacy of this year’s tournament translates into grassroots participation. Anson described his desire to turn Team GB into a “24-7, 365-day brand – using athletes to really interact and drive the health agenda”.
Encouraging more sports take-up is key, but it is perhaps more crucial that the next generation of Team GB athletes has well-funded facilities they can swim, lift, spar and jump in. They need safe roads to cycle on and decent equipment to train with. They need help with competition fees, travel expenses and sports memberships.
With the right investment, hopefully we can look forward to many more years of a diverse Team GB from all backgrounds demonstrating athletic excellence on the world stage. Who knows where they will take us next?