Innovation can be UK’s golden edge

To say that China has thrown everything but the kitchen sink at making its Olympic Games the greatest show on earth is an understatement. Rest assured the kitchen sink will be there somewhere too — gold-plated and the best that money can buy.

As the nation charged with delivering the next Olympics in 2012, the UK can be excused some trepidation at the spectacle being offered up in Beijing which, if you were a particularly paranoid Brit, might seem to have ‘follow that’ stamped all over it.

Ahead of 2012 there will inevitably be a heavy focus on the ability of the UK’s civil engineering and construction sectors to deliver a Games that, while it might not match the Chinese version for sheer scale and cash spent, is its equal in quality and efficiency.

But as our feature entitled Going for gold reveals, the nation’s engineers and technologists will also play a key role in delivering the other element that would make London 2012 an Olympics to remember for the UK — a record haul of medals for its competitors.

It has become something of a cliché for successful sportsmen and women to praise the team helping them behind the scenes. Coaches, nutritionists, sports psychologists and even supportive family members tend to get name-checked on such occasions. But how about the engineers and technologists?

As The Engineer shows, work on advanced technology to prepare for 2012 could make the difference between gold, silver, bronze or no medal in four years’ time.

The main factor deciding success or failure will be the quality of the competitors themselves. The involvement of our engineers is about that extra edge — the extra half-second or half-metre.

If the type of collaborations highlighted in our feature can deliver that edge, then it will make for a good two weeks in London.

In that case we would hopefully have credit given where it is due. As we are seeing in Beijing, the Olympics turns the spotlight on a nation’s strengths (and its weaknesses) in a manner matched by few world events.

If the ingenuity of our technical innovators does bring medal success to the UK in four years’ time, that would be one of our enduring strengths worthy of celebration.

There would be a certain symbolism in that situation. China has put its unprecedented resources into creating a massive, awe-inspiring spectacle. The UK is gearing up to cleverly target its much smaller resources at the main prize. Perhaps there are similarities between the destinies of the two nations. Or maybe not — after all it’s only a game.



Andrew Lee, editor