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Lottery paying off, but Europe is no longer an athletics powerhouse

Great Britain and Northern Ireland's performance in the European Athletics Championships deserves the highest praise.

Standards in Europe were higher when Tom McKean was at his peak
Standards in Europe were higher when Tom McKean was at his peak

It's the biggest demonstration to date that Lottery investment is paying off. Though merely at continental level, it overshadows the 2012 Olympic medal haul which prompted the resignation of UK performance director Charles van Commenee.

Yet comparison with the previous record medal haul (1986, 8 golds, 2 silvers, 5 bronzes) and performances achieved then, suggests that hype over 2016 Olympic prospects is premature. Europe is no longer a powerhouse of the sport.

The UK was third in the 1986 medal table behind USSR and East Germany: doping-infested regimes, neither of which now exists.

Standards in 1986 were, staggeringly, higher than today. Seven of table-topping Britain's 12 gold medal-winning performances in Zurich would not have won the corresponding events in 1986. Mo Farah would not even have earned a medal. Nor would Lynsey Sharp or Eilidh Child.

A total of 249 European men and women featured in the 1986 world top 10 (111 men, 138 women). It is 140 today (I reviewed only events common to both championships, thus excluding new events introduced subsequently).

In 1986, there were 14 British men and eight women among those 249 Europeans in the world's best. Today there are nine men, 11 women. The gender balance has shifted but the UK share has held up well.

Britain had three in the world top 10 at 800 metres in 1986. Scotland's Tom McKean ranked 11th in the world but only fourth in the UK. In no single discipline today does the UK have three among the top 10.

Scotland has three athletes in the top 10 in their respective events: Child at No.4 over 400m hurdles, and Sharp and Laura Muir at No.8 in the 800m and 1500m respectively. You have to go back to 1991 - a perceived golden age - to surpass that: McKean (800m), Tom Hanlon (steeplechase), Yvonne Murray (3000m) and Liz McColgan (10k) were all in the world top 10.

Apart from the United States, where the collegiate system funds track and field, and challenged otherwise only by France, no nation invests more in development than Britain.

This has been widely ignored in the past. Of 142 European athletes to have won world junior medals between 2000 and 2010, only one claimed a medal in London 2012.

Talented juniors making the transition to senior level is poor. The likes of James Dasaolu and Adam Gemili, winners of the 100 and 200m in Zurich, show Britain may be starting to get that right.

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