Mark Homer |

What does it take to win?

What can we learn from how elite teams approach success? Dr Mark Homer explores the key areas

Following the Rio 2016 Games, UK Sport – the strategic leaders for Team GB Olympic sports – began an initiative which required governing bodies to provide a detailed explanation of what is required to win an Olympic gold medal in their sport. Using the 100m as an example, a male athlete running 9.54 (a new world record) would all but guarantee a gold medal in Paris 2024. The sport would then need to provide the required to understand what it takes to run that fast by breaking the event down into the factors that determine it.

Organisations approached this task in different ways, a tactic encouraged by the funding body. For some (eg. the marathon), the highly objective time or distance-based methods for picking a winner made this task relatively more straightforward, particularly for highly repeatable sports in a ‘closed’ environment. For invasion games, combat sports or ‘judged’ events (eg. rhythmic gymnastics) things were more complex and required a more subjective approach.

Isolating and ranking the determinants of performance, in order to explain success in rowing, fell somewhere between these two extremes. To the uninitiated, 2,000m of uninterrupted straight-line racing might seem cut-and-dry. However, trying to explain the effect of wind direction and crew dynamics on performance soon shows that there is not just one single formula that provides an explanation of victory.


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