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Schools Sport Going for


GOLD O


John Goodbody explains why independent schools produce more than their fair share of Olympic athletes


ne of the most celebrated days for Britain in Olympic history occurred on the rowing course, near the village of Marathon in Greece on 21st August, 2004. It was the fi nal of the men’s coxless fours in which


Britain were seeking to retain the title they had won in Sydney four years earlier, when Steve Redgrave had taken his fi fth successive gold medal at the Games. It was a close fi nish in 2000 and four years later in


Athens, it was even closer. Canada launched a desperate attack over the last 100 metres as the British crew, remembering the words of their German coach Jurgen Grobler, “When all else fails, just pull”, won by 0.08 seconds. The British stroke, Matthew Pinsent, broke down in tears on the podium as he secured his fourth successive title, a performance which brought him a knighthood and the honour as Sportsman of the Year. One striking feature of that crew was that all four


Junior modern pentathlete Flora Alessandroni is a pupil at Moira House, Eastbourne


members had attended independent schools. Steve Williams, who was to get another gold medal in 2008, was at Monkton Coombe. James Cracknell, another two-time champion, was at Kingston GS. And Pinsent and Ed Coode had begun rowing at Eton, a school which, since they were pupils, has built its own 2000 metres international lake to be used for the 2012 London Games. The educational background of those four oarsmen is an extreme instance of a remarkable fact – that Britain has relied very heavily on former public school pupils for success in recent Olympics and it is likely that this will happen again at the London Games. Only about 7% of the population attend independent schools but over the last three Games, an average of roughly 50% of medal winners were privately educated. These have included cyclist Sir Chris Hoy, who was at George Watson’s College in Edinburgh, Ben Ainslie, already winner of three sailing gold medals, who was a pupil at Truro School, in Cornwall, and modern pentathlon silver medallist Heather Fell, who was educated at Kelly College in Somerset. Olympic sports are not unique in


providing such a high preponderance of products from independent schools in elite competition – as a glance at the backgrounds of many county cricketers


26 FirstEleven Autumn 2011


emphasise, – while 13 of the 31 squad members of England’s 2003 World Rugby Union Cup-winning squad were privately educated. It is no wonder that successive Governments have


realised that if they raise the standard in more state schools, then Britain should get more medals in the Olympics. More than £1.5 billion has been poured into the provision of sport and physical education in state schools since 2005 but it is too early to tell whether this will have narrowed the gap and if so by how much. So why do independent schools provide so many


outstanding sportsmen and women? One easy answer is that the facilities are better. Queenswood in Hertfordshire, has a total of 27 tennis courts, clay, artifi cial grass and indoor, as well as a hockey centre


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MAIN PHOTO: PETER SPURRIER. COURTESY OF THE RIVER & ROWING MUSEUM (WWW.RRM.CO.UK).


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