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Donkin's World: Olympic Gold - We Did It Sitting Down

"When all the dust has settled, analysis of Britain’s successes in the Olympic Games will show that an overwhelming majority of British medal-winning performances were achieved by competitors sitting on their backsides,'' writes Richard Donkin.

While upright athletes – the runners, boxers and martial arts experts – claimed a clutch of golds, almost two-thirds of British gold medals came from what might be called bum-based pursuits – rowing, sailing, cycling, canoeing and horse riding.

In fact only Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford achieved their golds using a minimum of equipment – shoes, vests and shorts – although it could be argued that Jessica Ennis did not use artificial aids since her non-running disciplines involved “accessories” such as the javelin and shot put. Tom Daley’s skimpy trunks can't earn points for sporting minimalism either since he needed a multi-million pound diving pool to get them wet.

What does this say about team GB? Is our sporting prowess built on private schooling and solid middle-class incomes that can support those sports where expensive equipment is a barrier to entry to the children of poorer families?

Bum-based sport is kit-heavy. With racing dinghies and cycles often costing upwards of £20,000 each, lower-income competitors must rely on either club-kit or equipment supplied through National Lottery and sports association funding.

While there are statistics that point to the importance of private schools in British sporting success, they do not explain success in cycling which has its share of elite athletes from modest backgrounds. Nor can it explain how someone from a comprehensive school got in to the show-jumping team. The mother of double-gold medallist Charlotte Dujardin, bought and sold ponies for a profit to help finance her daughter's sport.

That said, it’s a long time since the sport was graced by blunt-edged characters such as Harvey Smith, famed for his two-fingered salute to the showing-jumping establishment.

There may also be a point to make about ethnicity and multi-culturalism that some have argued is a hallmark of Britain’s contribution to London 2012. If so, it doesn’t extend to the bottom-sitting sports that did not have a single black or ethnic competitor among the British medal winners.

Rowing, like cycling, can produce a few examples of competitors from modest socio-economic backgrounds but most rowers and most sailors come from middle-income backgrounds.

In these recessionary times the squeezed-middle class appears to have been the source of almost all of the bum-based sports that have proved the foundation of Britain’s medal successes at the London games.

There must be hope, therefore, for the nation’s teenage couch potatoes. If your idea of exercise is a remote-control game in front of the TV take comfort from the knowledge that you’re already half-way to Olympic stardom. Just choose your mode of transport.

The message for those with future Olympic aspirations is not to get off your backside, but learn the game of musical sporting chairs. There are only so many seats for any Olympic competition, and if you’re British and want to win, you’d do well to find a sport where you can sit on one.

Olympic fact file:

Top British bum-based sports (number of event golds won by British teams or individuals in brackets): Cycling (8), Rowing (4), Equestrian (3), Canoeing (2), Sailing (1): total 18.
Golds won on two feet: athletics (4), boxing (3), tennis (1), taekwondo (1), shooting (1): total 10.
One other gold, in the triathlon, was won through a combination of sitting, being upright and lying down (swimming).

Most overused word of the Olympic games: “Unbelievable!”

Most overused commentator cliche: “The crowd is the extra man in the boat.”

Naffest bit from the closing ceremony: Batman and Robin emerging from the Only Fools and Horses Reliant Robin. What was that all about?

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