Olympic medal winners from Loughborough University have trained in a “phenomenal performance environment”, their executive sporting director has said.
John Steele told the PA news agency he finds it “baffling” when people say the Olympics is not about medals – describing the university’s athletes’ performances as “something very special”.
Loughborough University is home to swimmer Adam Peaty, who won Team GB’s first gold of the Tokyo Games.
Speaking about what the athletes had faced at this year’s Olympics, Mr Steele said: “This is a different and quite extraordinary games actually, and we’ll see the same with the Paralympics, because of Covid it’s thrown up a lot of variables, a lot of things that we haven’t experienced before.
“Olympics and Paralympics are hard enough at the best of times but if you throw in a global pandemic then you really are looking at a tough challenge.
“Before these athletes even got to Tokyo they had been through so much – so to actually go on and perform in an environment with all the restrictions, plus the heat which is unprecedented, is really something very special.”
Mr Steele told PA that Olympians such as Peaty are “great to have around” the university.
He said: “I think what Adam has achieved is incredible really – unprecedented.
“Him and Mel Marshall (Adam’s coach) have sort of reinvented the stroke, put in new benchmarks and new standards, and he just surprises all the time.
“He’s great to have around the Loughborough environment. He will always help, he’s very focussed on what he does, but if there’s something for Loughborough sport, him and Mel are very good at backing the environment.
“So it’s amazing – when you see people on a daily basis in Loughborough and then you see them on the world stage in somewhere like Tokyo, performing in front of a global audience of millions, it’s very, very special.”
Peaty became the first British swimmer to successfully defend an Olympic title after roaring to victory in the men’s 100 metres breaststroke final in 57.37 seconds in Tokyo, the fifth fastest time in the history of the event.
Asked what the secret was to the university’s success, Mr Steele said: “We always describe it as an eco-system in Loughborough… because what we are is we are lots of different sports – multi-sport in a multi-dimensional environment, with lots of different types of athletes, from people starting to learn a sport to Olympic gold medallists.
“But what it produces over many decades is a phenomenal performance environment – a really amazing place.
“To use another metaphor, if you think of Loughborough it’s a bit like an iceberg – the tip of the iceberg that you see is athletes and coaches delivering, under the surface there’s a phenomenal amount of stuff that goes on.
“If you take Tokyo, (we have) heat chambers – you can’t go to an environment like that and just expect to perform, you have to put in a lot of work in terms of delivering and performing with that sort of heat.”
Mr Steele continued: “We’re a talent factory, but we’re a talent factory for sport.
“That might be volunteers, getting people to be more active, it might be strength and conditioning coaches, it might be sports psychologists, it might be sports leaders and managers.
“So it’s not just about the athletes and the coaches, it’s a whole range of things.
“In the traditional sort of talent pathway, we’re pretty advanced – but for instance, the number of Paralympic athletes that we produce needs to improve and we’ve developed a strategy around that.
“Also some of the practitioner disciplines around psychology and performance analysis we’re looking to improve, so we want to be a talent factory for the whole of sport.
“We also want to make sure that there’s equal opportunity, that we’re diverse and we’re inclusive in that cohort that we produce.”
Questioned on how Loughborough managed to produce so many world-class athletes, Mr Steele said: “We’re very like the UK Sport strategy really in that, it is about medals.
“I always find it baffling when people say it’s not about the medals because it is.
“Sport is about success but more than that it’s about moments and we just want to see people that we’ve supported to be over in Tokyo and to have a wonderful experience and to create moments which they will remember for the rest of their lives.
“It’s an extraordinary Olympics, and because of that we’re going to see some extraordinary outcomes and moments – even more than usual.”
Mr Steele continued: “I think in the end it’s about partnership. Those might be micro-partnerships between a coach and an athlete, they might be macro-partnerships between the university and a national governing body or a stakeholder like UK Sport.
“But it’s working together – sport is about teamwork and that might be a bit of a cliche but it’s true, and that’s applicable on and off the pitch, and at Loughborough we’ve just tried to work together to do the best we can for the people in sport.
“There’s constantly conflicting dynamics – where do we put what is a limited resource to maintain our standing as the best sporting university in the world?
“In the end, you don’t set out and say ‘we’re going to do X, Y and Z in terms of outcomes with medals and performance’.
“You do set out to say ‘we are going to be really, really top drawer in terms of the partnerships we have, the support, the collaboration, the services we produce on a daily basis’ – and we have to recognise the team behind the team.
“There’s a huge number of people without whom those athletes wouldn’t be out there in Tokyo if they hadn’t really worked hard to give them an environment during Covid restrictions, during the lockdown – it’s been phenomenal.”
Issuing his message to potential future sports stars thinking of joining the university, Mr Steele said: “I’m biased, but if you do have aspirations in terms of performance sport, then you really couldn’t be in a better place or environment.
“It’s not arrogant, it’s not divisive, it’s very collaborative, it’s very down-to-earth, and it’s very caring about the people that are there.”
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