UK Sport confident of breaking GB Olympic medal record at Tokyo 2020

• Team GB finished second overall in Rio with 67 medals
• Warr says ‘bases are loaded’ when it comes to medal potential

UK Sport is “quietly confident” that the Tokyo Olympics will be the best ever for British athletes, surpassing the record-breaking medal haul of 2016.

Three years ago in Rio Team GB finished a stunning second overall in the table with 67 medals, behind only the United States, and most experts expect that to dip in 2020.

However, Chelsea Warr, UK Sport’s performance director, says data from the organisation’s Sports Intelligence team shows “bases are loaded” when it comes to British medal potential – with more sports and athletes making podiums at world championships compared with four years ago.

“What is pleasing is that ahead of Rio we had 15 sports getting medals at world championships, now we’ve 22,” said Warr, who also pointed out that 123 British athletes have won world championship medals over the Tokyo Olympic cycle compared with 115 before Rio.

“We’ve also had more fourth-to-eighth places this year,” she added. “In 2015 we had 188 leading into Rio and we have 218 leading into Tokyo. So the bases are loaded. The medal potential is there. One of the things we need to work on is to optimise that group to move into the medal zone. It’s looking good. We’re quietly confident.”

Warr said she expected the “experienced sports” of cycling, rowing and sailing to lead the way again but predicted that new events, such as freestyle BMX, could also spring a few welcome surprises.

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Among the names Warr flagged up was Charlotte Worthington, a chef before taking up freestyle BMX full-time two years ago, who has improved so rapidly she won a world bronze medal last month.

However, Warr admitted she expected a stronger challenge from China, Japan and Australia this time, along with Russia if it successfully appeals against its ban imposed by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“The international context has changed, no doubt,” she said. “There are new sports in the programme.

“It’s tougher. We’ve had to be more agile. But when I think about the results of this year and I compare them with where we were in Rio at the same point … and when I put it all together with the quality of the very clever people we have and our track record, I’m quietly confident.

“ If you polled the sports out there, they’d say the same thing. But there’s no complacency. That’s the enemy of excellence.”

In 2016 Britain became the first nation to surpass its medal total at the Olympics immediately following one that it hosted, winning 67 medals in Rio compared with 65 at London 2012. However, the data company Gracenote has forecast Britain may win only 42 medals in Tokyo, dropping it to fourth or fifth in the medal table depending on whether Russia is competing.

However, Warr said she expected British athletes to kick on again after a “fantastic” 2019. “Every sport has a Tokyo-ready plan,” she said. “And all of them have been stress-tested over the last few months.”

Meanwhile the new chief executive of UK Sport, Sally Munday, has praised journalists for unearthing the athlete welfare crisis in British Olympic sport during the past few years.

Jess Varnish set the ball rolling by revealing before the 2016 Olympics there was a “culture of fear” inside the velodrome, with the track cyclist also alleging the former British Cycling technical director Shane Sutton had told her she should “get on with having a baby”.

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The Guardian subsequently revealed a host of issues in other sports, including allegations of racism in British Bobsleigh and investigations into possible abuse in British Gymnastics and British Canoeing.

However, Munday insisted UK Sport had listened and responded to some of the problems in the system. “We should welcome scrutiny,” she said. “Because we have a good system we shouldn’t have anything to hide. I really believe our system is a great British success story. The public really care about it. And with that comes being open to scrutiny.”

Munday, who was previously a highly regarded chief executive of GB hockey, also stressed she wanted UK Sport to be even better in the future. “It would be very easy, given the success there’s been, for there to be complacency,” she said. “But everywhere I look there’s a real drive to want to get better and to give the athletes the very best chance of getting medals around their necks.

“I’m very aware there are questions around things that have happened recently in the high-performance system. But over the last few years UK Sport has put a lot of things in place to ensure some of the failings in the past aren’t able to happen in the future.”

The 2016 British Olympic team show off their medals after arriving back at Heathrow from the Rio Games
The 2016 British Olympic team show off their medals after arriving back at Heathrow from the Rio Games. Photograph: Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images

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Sean Ingle

The GuardianTramp

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