GB leaps ahead of Australia

The woman who broke Britain's gold medal "drought" at their home Games became an Olympian by answering an ad in the paper.

In 2008, Helen Glover was a pretty good runner and in Britain's fringe hockey squad, but was not heading toward any Olympic team.

That was until Steve Redgrave called for anyone over 5ft 9in who wanted to try rowing under Britain's Sporting Giants scheme.

The PE student sent her letter off, fudging the fact she was half an inch short, was identified as a potential talent, put in a boat for the first time and was taught how to row.

Four years later, Glover won an Olympic gold medal when she and Heather Stanning beat Australia's Sarah Tait and Kate Hornsey in the women's pair.

Their win set off Britain's rush of 29 gold medals which put them third on the overall table behind sporting giants the US and China.

They were also among five Britons to beat Australia into silver in the lopsided Olympic Ashes.

Glover epitomises Britain's meticulous, scientific and well-financed approach to their sport which has transformed the nation from a world laughing stock to powerhouse in a little more than a decade.

If Australia's Olympic turning point came with no gold medals in Montreal in 1976, Britain's was in Atlanta 20 years later when Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent won the country's only gold in the coxless pairs.

Both men were subsequently knighted for their rowing exploits, but the honour could well have been for putting a torch under British sport.

Since then, Britain unashamedly borrowed many ideas from Australia, establishing institutes of sport, importing the best overseas coaches, sports scientists and, in many ways, the Australian attitude.

They won 11 gold in Sydney in 2000, nine in Athens and then came the big jump with 19 in Beijing in 2008.

When asked the difference in British sport between Atlanta and London 2012, British Olympic Association (BOA) chairman Colin Moynihan did not hesitate to produce a one word answer: "Funding."

Britain's enormously successful national lottery injects STG100 million ($A149m) a year into sport, a figure that has steadily increased since the scheme started in the late 1990s.

The core sports of athletics, cycling, rowing and sailing receive STG26m ($A38.7m) each over a four-year period.

Between them, those sports won Britain 17 gold medals at the London Games.

In 2010, the Australian government injected $195.2m into all sport for four years, $120m of which is for high performance.

Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) president John Coates says Australia needs to be wiser in how it spends its money.

Coates admits that, after educating the British about sport, Australia now needs to learn from them.

But the lessons can't be applied in funding.

A national lottery will not work in Australia. The state governments have authority over lottery licences and make too much money out of them for their own purposes to relinquish any to sport.

Although Coates is satisfied with the level of funding, there's obviously no way Australia will ever match its arch-rival again while that massive discrepancy remains.

Moynihan says the lottery has transformed British sport over the last 10 years.

As well as allowing the BOA to contract the best coaches for four-year periods, apply the latest science and develop the institutes, it's also funding talent identification programs like Sporting Giants.

The worrying thing for Australia is that Moynihan believes Glover is just the start.

"The talent is out there, the key is identifying that," he said.

"There's many more out there, we need to roll that out into schools, rolled out nationwide. It could prove more successful."

The British also mastered the art of performing at the right time, another area in which they comprehensively outdid Australia.

Last year, 45 per cent of British medals won in world championships and equivalent events were silver.

In London 2012, 45 per cent of their medals have been gold, compared to 20 per cent for Australia.

"It was about peaking at the right time," said Britain's chef de mission Andy Hunt.

In contrast, many of Australia's gold medal favourites, including James Magnussen and his 4x100m freestyle team and the men's hockey team failed to deliver in London.

And several of Australia's highly-rated gold prospects, such as the men's fours rowers and men's team pursuit cyclists, won silver after losing ground to their British rivals who peaked with perfection.

Britain's big guns thrived under pressure - Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins, Mo Farrah, Jessica Ennis, Ben Ainslie, Alistair Brownlee all lived up to the hype.

The AOC's benchmarking figures based on 2011 world championship results predicted 15 gold to Australia and 14 for Britain.

Australia ended up with seven, Britain with 29.

Britain's cyclists are a prime example of targeting the Olympics at the expense of other events.

After winning one gold medal at the 2011 world track championships compared to Australia's six, the British won seven in the London velodrome while Anna Meares was the only Australian winner.

The spread of sports has also exchanged. Australia won medals in 19 sports in Sydney, but only eight in London.

Britain won medals in 15 different sports, taking gold in 11, including first time victories in taekwondo and triathlon.

Moynihan has no doubt the confidence which grew when Glover and Stanning won on the fifth day went "viral" through the team and was only enhanced by the massive home crowd support.

"Many silvers became gold," he said of the influence of confidence and home crowd.

Prime minister David Cameron acted quickly to exploit Britain's new found optimism in difficult economic times by announcing on the last day of the Games that funding will be extended to STG125m ($A186m) a year through to the Rio Games in 2016.

While Coates says Australia will find it "very, very difficult" to bounce back in Rio, Britain is looking at a bright future.

"I think the face of British sport will be transformed," says Moynihan.

Games organising chief Sebastian Coe says Britain is now perfectly placed to take advantage of the legacy he promised the Games would leave.

"Infrastructurally we're better than we've ever been. The national lottery has changed the landscape for sport," he said.

"There's been a sea change, but we can't take the foot off the pedal."

He says Britain's national sporting bodies are "smart enough to know the red carpet has been rolled out in front of them."

And they're going to walk it all the way to Rio.