Tokyo Olympics: 'Soviet model' sees Italy win 40 medals

Spain’s athletes have now all returned from the Olympics. It was one of the biggest groups we’ve ever sent to the Games, partly because we were present in so many team sports, yet we finished an underwhelming 22nd in the medal table, coming 11th out of the European nations. As you know, countries are ranked in order of gold medals won, with silvers and bronzes breaking ties. In a ranking based solely on medals of any description - Spain earned 17 - we’d be a bit higher, but it’s still a total that’s nothing to write home about. The head of the Spanish Olympic Committee, Alejandro Blanco, gave our performance a 10 out of 10, because he arrived at his mark by weighing up the results against the amount of investment there is from the state - and from that point of view it’s hard to argue with him.

A 22nd-placed finish at the Olympics doesn’t reflect our world standing. Significantly higher, in 10th, is Italy, who won a national-record 40 medals. Italy is a country comparable to ours: we’re cut from a similar cloth, have the same climate, have a similar way of life and are generally at about the same sporting level. They have a larger population than ours - 60 million to 46 million - but that can’t account for a 23-medal difference at the Games. No, the Italians enjoyed the success they did this summer because they've turned to the ‘Soviet model’. Of their 384 representatives in Tokyo, 270 belong to the state’s security services: the armed forces, carabinieri, police, fire fighters, prison guards…

That means they get time to train, leave to go off and compete, transfers to locations where they have better training conditions… Particularly for athletes in sports that don’t get all that much public attention, it’s vital support. In Spain, we have the odd competitor in such a situation (kayaker Saúl Craviotto, for example), but we certainly haven’t adopted a widespread policy in that direction. The notion that it’s only the kind of thing an Eastern European nation would do is ancient history now, and it wouldn’t be a bad move if we went that way. Blanco has raised the idea several times, but it’s something that has to be implemented at state level. In addition to increased financial assistance, of course. What Spain invests in an entire Olympic cycle isn’t as much as Italy invests in just a single year.