Britain's biggest gold medals haul since 1908 owes a lot to improved funding for Olympic sports. A former heptathlete tells Channel 4 News the difference lottery funding has made to athletics.
Back in 1996 Britain won a solitary gold in the Atlanta Olympics, courtesy of the ever-reliable Steve Redgrave and his rowing partner Matthew Pinsent.
Two years earlier, however, the launch of the National Lottery had given John Major's Conservative government the chance to invest in Olympic sports.
Sixteen years on from Atlanta, and the lottery has helped to deliver an Olympic Games and fund one of Britain's most successful ever medal-winning performances.
More than £264m has been shared between 27 Olympic sports from 2009 to 2013 to help British athletes perform to their potential at London 2012.
Rowing and cycling, two of Britain's most successful Olympics sports of recent Games, are among the best-funded, with athletics a close third. Sailing and canoeing have also been well supported.
At the other end of the funding league are shooting, wrestling and weightlifting, with only tennis and football not receiving any funding whatsoever.
The current backing enjoyed by Jessica Ennis and other track and field competitors is leagues ahead of the support that athletes received prior to the Atlanta Games.
No social life
Clova Court is one of Ennis's predecessors as Britain's number one heptathlete. Without receiving lottery funding she qualified for the European Championships, World Championships and Commonwealth Games in the early 1990s, competing against champions like the USA's Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Germany's Sabine Braun and her better known compatriot Denise Lewis.
To support herself she worked from 6.30am as a manager in a petrol station in her native West Midlands, squeezing in up to five hours of training into her lunch break and after work.
Court said that heptathlon is a particularly tough sport to fund and admits to having no social life during this time. "There are so many different pairs of shoes and pieces of equipment for heptathlon," she explains. "It's really gruelling, yet it is difficult to to get anyone to consider funding."
As well as being fortunate to have a husband as a coach and an understanding boss who accommodated her training schedule, Court was sponsored by the petrol station where she worked.
In 2012 funding for Olympic sports is split almost 50/50 between the exchequer and the lottery. This funding is guaranteed for the lifetime of the current parliament but from 2015 the government's share will reduce.
A bigger share of lottery money beyond 2015 will provide some of the shortfall, with UK Sport getting as much as two thirds of funding from the lottery.
As well as funding prospects for the Rio Olympics in 2016, UK Sport will fund the development of talent for future games, a UK Sport spokesperson said.
"These are people on the talent path for Rio," he added. "There are people we find now who will win medals in Rio who you will have never heard of."
UK Sport has published targets that it would like each sporting body to achieve at London 2012, ranging from a clutch of medals for cycling to winning a set number of games for less developed sports like handball.
But success at London 2012 will not be the only factor in deciding future funding.
"We also look at what athletes each sport has in the pipeline," the spokesperson said. "If you can identify outstanding talent you will be funded."
"From our point of view, Lottery funding has had a massive impact," he added. "Just look at all the medals. This is the best-funded Olympic team ever because it a London Games."
Clova Court retired in 2001. Towards the end of her career she had some support from sporting bodies and attracted shoe sponsorship from Puma.
But having experienced life before and after Lottery money, she said that supporting development of athletes and helping athletes while they are injured is the best use for Lottery funding.
As for her own career, she has no regrets, despite the dearth of funding.
"I came in very late to the sport and gave it the best that I could and I mixed it with the athletes competing at the time.
"Maybe if I had been able to go full time I could have achieved more. But I am very proud of my career as an athlete."
21 November 2010
20 July 2012