Why medal targets are a waste of time

We all want our nation to do well at the London Olympic Games but do medal targets have any impact on the athletes?

    Silver medalist in the heptathlon Jessica Ennis will be going for gold in 2012 regardless of targets [GALLO/GETTY] 

    Five, six, seven, eight – whatever the target set by UK Athletics head coach Charles van Commenee for the 2012 London Games, I have started to question why we are developing an obsession with the number of medals our athletes will accumulate.

    Perhaps a better question than how many medals Team GB will win, is are these targets worth their weight in gold? 

    At the World Championships in South Korea, Great Britain achieved Van Commenee's target of seven medals and surpassed his demand of one gold with two. However, despite this being the GB's best haul at the Championships in the last decade, much more will be expected of them next year.  

    But are these targets really fair to our athletes?

    The Olympics are being held in London but this doesn't mean we should expect a group of GB superhumans to appear at the Games and shoot us up the medal table.  

    Local and national sporting authorities might have upped their funding to the GB team in anticipation of the Games but we all know money doesn't maketh the gold medallist.

    Although playing down the importance of medals ignores the win-at-all-costs nature of sport, calculations prior to the event are likely to be a waste of time and something only journalists get any fun out of.

    Desire already there

    Medal targets ignore one important fact: that inside all sportsmen and women is an inherent desire to be the best.

    If you have already trained up to an Olympic standard you are going for gold.

    It took one glance at Jennifer Ennis' face, who was expected by many to win gold at the World Championships in the heptathlon, to realise that despite winning silver every fibre in her body was aching - not from any physical fatigue but from sorrow.

    She had prepared her heart, body, mind and soul for gold; silver meant absolutely nothing to her other than defeat. The Great British public wanted her to secure gold but our disappointed is nothing compared to hers.

    This is partly why I think this obsession with targets insults our sports stars. Of course they want to win!

    It insults the people working with the athletes, the athletes themselves and ignores the idea that anyone involved would want to do anything other than their best for themselves and their country.

    Tables, graphs and stats of expectation overvalue the importance of winning and forget our primary goal: to host a successful and inspiring Games.

    Great Britain should concentrate on being the greatest Olympic hosts of all time.

        Bolt would have been one of Jamaica's certainties before disqualification in South Korea [GETTY]

    A poor medal total would be disappointing but it will not affect the event as a whole.

    What we really want to see at the 2012 London Games are athletes defying the odds, going that extra mile, breaking through time barriers before either bowing over for breath or crumbling in a heap - and it shouldn't matter what land they consider home.

    There is simply no reason why an athlete from Great Britain should be any better than an athlete from one of the other 200 plus nations competing. It is amazing and exciting that we do at least have some that just might be. 

    Like most other nations, the Great British public and our media are quick to obsess with winning but when athletes start winning we are too quick to apply the pressure, to turn the screw.

    Usain Bolt crumbled under the weight of the world when he false started in the 100m final in Daegu and it is likely expectation also got the better of Jennifer Ennis. 

    So let's just stop these predictions right now.

    Five, six, seven, eight – I would just like to see an event that entertains the world, that brings some surprises and also our nation's humour, passion for sport and idiosyncrasies to the Games.

    We can leave the target chasing, pessimism and pressure to the British press when discussing the English football team's chances at the 2014 World Cup. 

    The Olympics shouldn't be about heaving a massive weight of expectation onto athletes' shoulders. It should be about celebrating sport in general and all the good that comes from it.

    A medal is great for everyone involved, and a reason for the public to rejoice, but sadly it is not something that we can manufacture or guarantee.

    No one should be expected to deliver, no chickens should be counted, no medal targets should be set, and the only obligation should be for Great Britain to host a successful Games, crucially with an enviable firework display.

    Athletes suffer from injuries and illness all the time and if we don't stop draining the fun out of sport, if we continue to jump on their backs about what we require, it is possible that by the time the Games come round many of our hopes would have long ago become victims of our expectation.

    Joanna Tilley is a journalist freelancing with Al Jazeera on the Sport website. She has worked at Sky News, Sky Sports News, LBC Radio, Sportasylum.com, TNT Down Under and Wanderlust magazine. Follow her on Twitter (@joannatilley) or her website, sportjostyleeee.blogspot.com.

    Al Jazeera is not responsible for the content of external websites.


    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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