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Fishing For Medals: My Olympic Story

  • By Andy Hunt

    It is an Olympic year. A century on from the Paris Games of 1924, immortalised in Chariots of Fire, the Olympic torch returns to the French capital. Last month, I attended an Olympic reception at the French embassy in London, marking the official countdown to the Games.

    I was there in my capacity as CEO of Podium Analytics – more on that later – but also as the former chef de mission of Team GB at London 2012. Those Games remain a sporting and cultural landmark for the UK and a personal and professional highlight in my life. However, my link to the Olympics stretches back to before I was born. You could say that the Olympics is in my DNA.

    My mother, who is now in her mid-90s, worked for the BBC at the 1948 Olympic Games – the first since the Second World War, with rationing still in place! At the so-called ‘Austerity Games’, she was part of the team responsible for coordinating the movement of the transmitters for the live broadcast, working out of the Palace of Arts at Wembley, where the BBC set up its international broadcast centre.

    The opening ceremony plus more than 60 hours of Games coverage was broadcast live on BBC television. Although the channel was only officially available in the London area, its transmission could be received much further afield and the official BBC report on the coverage estimated that an average of half a million viewers watched each of their Olympic broadcasts. The BBC paid the princely sum of £1,000 for the broadcasting rights.

    My own Olympic moment arrived 64 years later.

  • Sixty four years after working at the Olympic Games, my mother gets her hands on the 2012 Olympic Torch

  • One day in 2008, as I was fishing with my youngest son on the Helford River in Cornwall, I got a call: “Would you like us to put your name forward for CEO of the British Olympic Association?” It took me all of a millisecond to say “yes”.

    The BOA had done a great job supporting our athletes at the Olympic Games for over 100 years, but the organisation was more of a logistics provider. It wasn’t built to play a pivotal role in ensuring athletes could perform at the highest level. From the start, it was my aim to get the BOA joined up with the work of UK Sport, the English Institute of Sport and the other key organisations to achieve a common performance model for Team GB.

    So, we set out to modernise the whole organisation. We brought together the best minds – great people like Sir Clive Woodward and Dave Reddin – to figure out how to create a defining culture around performance. That partnership of working together with the system meant that when we came to London, there was absolutely no stone left unturned in providing the best possible support.

    At the 1996 Atlanta Games, Team GB had won one gold medal and finished 36th in the medal table. In 2012, we won 29 golds and finished third in the medal table. ‘Super Saturday’ was unbelievable. Jess Ennis-Hill, Mo Farah, and then Greg Rutherford’s gold in the long jump an unexpected moment – a medal no one saw coming. The following morning, the leadership team had a 6am meeting. Clive Woodward had gone out to get the coffees for everybody and when walking back bumped into Greg. He’d been wandering around the Olympic Village all night, still in his Team GB tracksuit, with his gold medal around his neck. He joined us in the team meeting and recounted the most incredible 24 hours of his life. It was a very special moment.

    As the chef de mission, you see the highs and the lows athletes must endure. To succeed at the Olympic Games, you have to be at the perfect moment of your performance trajectory. And then there is the fear of injury. At the Games, I saw terrible injuries. I always think of Kate Richardson-Walsh, the hockey player, who had had her jaw broken, went to hospital to have it plated and returned to captain the team to a bronze medal.

  • Greg Rutherford gate crashes our meeting the morning after the night before

  • On the eve of Paris 2024, my professional life now centres more on injuries than medals. In 2019, I was approached by Sir Ron Dennis CBE to join Podium Analytics as CEO and lead his efforts in tackling a major public health issue – significantly reducing the incidence and impact of injury in youth and grassroots sport. Our work is aimed at shifting the traditional focus of sports injury research from elite competition to youth and grassroots level – from management to prevention. We want to lead the conversation on sports injury among young people with a science-led, data-driven approach.

    This summer, the Olympics will inspire people all over the country to participate in sport. We believe that Podium can play a key role in keeping as many of them as possible active for as long as possible. That won’t win any medals, but the physical and mental health impact is by far the biggest win of them all!

    Andy Hunt, CEO of Podium Analytics