IOC Olympic Channel

Nigel Walker: The (almost) one million hours that go into supporting British athletes

An anti-gravity treadmill in operation in Bisham ©EIS

Team TTO in Rio 2016
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When we talk about the high performance system that underpins elite sport, there can often be misinterpretation around what this means.

In recent years, the British public has become used to seeing our athletes triumph against the very best in the world, whether that be at the Olympic and Paralympic Games, World Championships or any one of the numerous international competitions on the sporting calendar.

It is no accident that these athletes get to the top of the podium and their talent, sacrifice and dedication is obviously a huge factor in this.

But one is entitled to ask: “What is this high performance system that helped transform these athletes into the best in the world?”

Well I can tell you that there is no magic formula. A wand wasn’t waved to move Great Britain from 36th on the Olympic medal table at the Atlanta 1996 Games to third in both the Olympic and Paralympic medal tables at London 2012.

Instead, UK Sport smartly deployed funding from the Government and the National Lottery to create something that is now the envy of the world. A large part of this was creating the English Institute of Sport (EIS) back in 2002, where I have been National Director since 2010.

Armed with UK Sport funding, our objective is to support this system by helping elite athletes and coaches improve performance through the expert delivery of science, medicine and technology.

The results of our work are illustrated clearly by the fact that the EIS worked with 86 per cent of the GB athletes that won a medal at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

It is a nice statistic but those glorious London 2012 Games have come and gone and our focus is very much on success at Rio 2016 and beyond.

Our practitioners are fully committed to this objective which brings me to the very heart of what the high performance system is – world leading experts who work hard!

In the four-year cycle to Rio, EIS practitioners have delivered nearly one million hours (950,000 hours to be precise) of support to Olympic and Paralympic athletes, which represents over 4,500 hours each week.

The expertise of over 350 EIS staff provided to athletes competing in more than 30 Olympic and Paralympic sports means that GB athletes heading to Rio 2016 will be the most supported in history.

This work takes place across 10 main High Performance Centres in the UK and on May 10 we hosted a media briefing alongside UK Sport at one of those Centres - in Bisham - to provide a glimpse of the hard work that goes on.

You may think these centres are simply kitted out with high-tech equipment to make athletes bigger, stronger and faster and that is partly true as they do boast facilities such as environmental chambers, anti-gravity treadmills and hydropools. But the support for athletes and coaches goes well beyond this.

Our services support both the physical and mental health and wellbeing of athletes with expertise provided across areas including biomechanics, performance analysis, performance lifestyle, performance pathways, performance nutrition, physiology, psychology, physiotherapy, medicine, research and innovation and strength and conditioning.

This support combines to help athletes and coaches across numerous areas including maximising competition performance, recovering from injury, identifying talent, enhancing physical and mental health and wellbeing and transitioning into new careers following retirement from elite sport.

I try not to think about it too much but sometimes I wish I had the same phenomenal support package back when I was an athlete competing at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics but as much as I hate to admit it; that was a long time ago!

The world has moved on a long way and with that, UK Sport and the EIS have worked together to build a world-leading high performance system currently on track to deliver the best ever “away” Games at Rio 2016.

It is the vision of the EIS to be the world leading institute for sport and through the funding and support provided by UK Sport, our ambitious goal is within reach.

The high performance system we have in our country is the envy of many around the world and that is underpinned by the 1,100 years collective experience our practitioners have amassed.

The challenge now is to keep building on this and with renewed commitment from the Government, National Lottery, UK Sport and our other partners, I am confident we can.

We will give everything we have to make the nation proud of our sporting heroes – without forgetting the contribution of the team behind the team at the EIS who help make it all possible.

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