Bookmakers and economists are predicting Britain could end a gold-medal stranglehold enjoyed by China, the US and Russia this century by muscling into the top-three finishing positions at the London Olympics.
Since 2000, China and the US have held the first and second slots in the gold-medal tally, with Russia third.
At Beijing in 2008, China led the table for the first time with 51 golds among 100 medals, while the US team won 36 golds and 110 medals. Russia took home 23 golds and 73 medals.
Britain came fourth, passing Germany and Australia, by winning 19 gold medals and a total of 47 medals.
This summer UK Sport, which funds elite British athletes, has set a target of 48 medals, but bookmakers and economists say this is too modest as Team GB are the largest Olympic team, with 542 athletes, and have the advantage of home crowd support.
Britain has also spent ￡312 million (US$483 million) since 2008 to make sure Team GB are top of their game.
Airton Risk Management, part of betting company Paddy Power PLC, has used predictions of 110 sports traders to forecast British athletes will bag 22 golds and a total of 61 medals, rivaling Russia for third place.
“It won’t surprise the public that Team GB are expected to deliver in cycling, sailing and boxing,” Airton Risk Management head Rod O’Callaghan said.
“However, there is a wealth of emerging and lower-profile talent — such as Perri Shakes-Drayton, [women’s 400m hurdles] who could pick up an unexpected gold in front of her home crowd, and Lawrence Okoye [men’s discus],” he said.
He added that the US were expected to perform well in track and field and in the pool, with odds of 16-1 that Michael Phelps will win seven golds in London. He won eight in Beijing.
David Steven, spokesman for bookmaker Coral, agreed that UK Sport’s target was low and was running odds of 6-5 that Britain would win 25 or more gold medals.
He predicted 64 or 65 British medals, which would be the greatest number for Britain since the London Games in 1908 when the nation won 56 golds and 146 medals — and a turnaround from the team’s worst Olympic performance in Atlanta in 1996, when they won just one gold and 15 medals to come 36th in the table.
Ladbrokes offer 3-1 that Britain would win 22 to 24 gold medals and odds of 5-6 of landing 62 or more medals.
“That sums up the sentiment in the camp at the moment ... us and the general public expect them to do very well indeed,” spokesman Alex Donohue said.
Such a medal tally could put Britain ahead of Russia in the London medal table, with Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko acknowledging that Russia’s 450 athletes may struggle to compete with Britain for third place — and some economists agree.
Goldman Sachs used economic modeling to predict that the British team will come third with 30 golds and 65 medals, while Russia wins 25 golds and 74 medals, arguing that host nations can typically expect a 54 percent jump in gongs.
However, economists at PriceWaterhouseCoopers used a political and economic model to forecast Britain winning 54 medals, but lagging Russia with 68 medals.
They did not predict the gold-medal tally.
Bookmakers Stan James were not as upbeat and have lowered the chances of Britain winning more than 22 gold medals.
“There seems to be an air of pessimism concerning the Olympics, with atrocious weather and concerns over infrastructure and security to the fore,” spokesman Rory Jiwani said.