The man he replaced as the country’s greatest medal winner, Sir Steve Redgrave, was also state-educated although Great Marlow School does have its boat club as well as the advantage of being right next to the Thames.
Despite their achievements, overall it is still believed that too many of our best athletes went to fee-paying schools.
The latest to make the argument was Lord Moynihan, the chairman of the British Olympic Association, who said it was “wholly unacceptable” one of the “worst statistics” in sport that 50 per cent of Team GB medallists in Beijing came from the independent sector. All but 7 per cent of children go to state schools.
Even the Eton-educated Prime Minister, David Cameron, said last month that independent schools produce “more than their fair share” of medal winners.
But there remains disagreement about why this should be the case, much of it divided along political lines.
According to critics of both the current Government and private education, the answer is that those who can afford to pay school fees are able to buy their way to success.
Independent schools can pay for the best facilities and coaches, while pupils’ parents can get kit them out for costly sports such as those involving horses and boats. All of Britain’s equestrian medal winners in 2008 were independently-educated, while the country’s first gold medals at the current Games were won on a lake paid for and constructed by Eton College.
As private school fees have doubled in recent years, rival head teachers have embarked on an “arms race” to win over parents by building the finest sporting facilities and hiring the best staff.
By contrast comprehensives are so starved of cash that they have to sell off their playing fields, and poorer families can’t spare the money to buy the latest trainers or drive to matches in evenings and at weekends. It is estimated that 30,000 pitches were lost between 1992 and 2005, which might have benefited those currently competing in East London, while the Coalition may have dented the chances of future champions by ending the £162million ring-fenced funding of School Sports Partnerships.
The alternative viewpoint is that the egalitarian stance of state schools, typified by stories of teachers who stop the scores being recorded in games and insist that “all must have prizes”, deprives children of the necessary will to win.
Rupert Murdoch made this point on Twitter, writing: “No wonder China leading in medals while US and UK mainly teach competitive sport a bad thing.”
However the vast majority of home-grown, and fiercely ambitious, Premiership footballers went to state schools - although they may have been picked off by talent scouts before they had the chance to try other disciplines that may have led to gold medals.
But another factor may be just as important as money and attitude in achieving sporting greatness.
Figures from the Independent Schools Council suggest that fee-paying pupils spend twice as long playing sports as those in state schools, putting in the time necessary to turn raw talent into highly polished skill.
Even those who do not board regularly take part in matches long after the normal school day finishes.
As every top athlete knows, whatever their background, there can be no substitute for putting in the hours.
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