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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 December 2006, 16:42 GMT
Minority sports set medal example
By Matt Slater

Ben Ainslie
Finn star Ben Ainslie helped Britain rule the waves in Athens
The boss of Britain's main source of funding for young talent believes Team GB should look to cycling, rowing and sailing for a winning formula.

According to SportsAid's Tim Lawler, those sports deal with fluctuations in form and talent better than any other.

"The trick in sport is to minimise the troughs in form and talent, and maximise the peaks," said Lawler.

"It is not a secret recipe we can't find - those sports are doing it and they are world class."

As the chief funding body for young athletes below the lottery-level elite, SportsAid is uniquely placed to assess what the respective governing bodies are doing to identify and nurture talent.

Cycling, rowing and sailing have emerged as Britain's most regular source of medals in recent championships, and Lawler has nothing but admiration for the way they identify and nurture talent.

"It's not just about money, because they are not the richest sports in this country by a long way," the SportsAid chief executive told BBC Sport.

If we're going to extend what cycling, rowing and sailing are doing, we won't do it by Beijing

SportsAid's Tim Lawler
"It is about how it is applied and executed. Couple that with raw talent and you get a conveyor-belt effect that replenishes the top level every few years."

Lawler, however, believes British sport in general still lags behind its main international rivals in terms of converting raw potential into tangible results.

"If you look at what other countries are doing to manage the peaks and troughs, we don't have that yet," he said.

"I think they had the light-bulb moment years before us. We are still catching up in philosophy and execution."

Lawler, whose charity has distributed almost 20m since 1976, is also critical of the short-termism he has witnessed from some governing bodies, although he acknowledges that this has often been a product of the need to meet lottery-funding criteria.

"The way funding is set up at the elite level is that unless you do well in championships you don't get your next round of funding," he said.

"That is why you get situations like (sprinter) Dwain Chambers being selected for the Europeans.

Great Britain's 4x100m at the European Championships
Chambers' contribution in Gothenburg was not welcomed by all
"He wasn't picked with a view to the Olympics - he can't compete in the Games!

"He was picked because he might have gained some decent results on a punt to unlock some more funding for (athletics).

"It was a case of get him over the line and take as few risks as possible."

Chambers, who had only just returned to competition from a two-year ban for doping, failed to medal in the 100m but did run a leg for the 4x100m team that won gold.

But even that achievement was tarnished when team-mate Darren Campbell refused to celebrate with the rest of the team because of his anger over Chambers' return.

Lawler, however, remains "hugely optimistic" about the current state of emerging talent in this country.

He is also convinced that London 2012 presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get British sport firmly on the right track.

"If 2012 is going to make any difference to the way we run sport then we will have to measure it then - we will need that time," he said.

"If we're going to extend what cycling, rowing and sailing are doing, we won't do it by Beijing (in 2008)."

Bradley Wiggins
Bradley Wiggins claimed gold, silver and bronze in 2004
Lawler, who must raise 75% of his annual budget from commercial sources, is also heartened by the response to London 2012 that he is getting from the business sector.

"The big firms aren't going to stop taking hospitality at Chelsea or Cheltenham but they are willing to do more in terms of sponsoring talent," he said.

"They just want to know it will make a difference and not be lost in dead ends."

It is ironic, Lawler notes, that while many consider 2006 to have been a disappointing year for UK sport, the country has had unprecedented success in a range of sports at junior level.

"National, European and global performances in certain sports are outstanding at the moment," he said.

"For the first time in 40 years our juniors are European table tennis champions, our junior boxers won, we have a world fencing champion and a junior world triathlon winner.

"SportsAid are the only big picture source of that view. We want to be a source for that group so they don't remain our best-kept secret.

"And if we have got the next level of support right (those athletes) won't drop off the map like they did in previous years."

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