The Rio Olympics: Explaining the UK’s Impressive Results through Project Management


By Prof Marco Sampietro

SDA Bocconi School of Management

Milan, Italy


The UK concluded the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro with 67 medals, achieving an astonishing second place. Only the USA did better, and considering the size of the UK’s population the result is really impressive. In addition, the UK hosted the Olympics in 2012 and records reveal that host countries normally perform very well (the so-called home advantage). As a consequence, at the following Olympics the number of medals always decreases. This, however, is not the case here: the UK is the only nation to have won more medals at the next Olympics after having hosted them. Figure 1 reports the number of medals won by the UK in the last 18 Olympic Games.

Figure 1: UK medals at the Olympic Games


Source: IOC

Focusing on the last 9 Olympics, figure 2 shows the breakdown of medals.

Figure 2: Type of UK medals won at the Olympic Games


Source: IOC

We can see that two events led to important decisions: the notable increase in the number of medals (even if mainly bronze) at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and the subsequent decrease in the number of medals at the following three Olympics, culminating in the very poor results of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where the UK won just one gold medal and ranked 36th, its lowest ranking in the history of the games since the modern Olympics began in Athens in 1896. That was the turning point.

Looking at the UK’s Results through a Project Management Lens

Just two years before the Atlanta Games, the National Lottery had been set up in 1994. After Atlanta, it was decided to use part of the National Lottery revenues to fund Olympic sports. In order to support Olympic sports and manage the funds properly, UK Sport was established by Royal Charter on 19 September 1996 and became fully operational on 1 January 1997. UK Sport is a non-departmental public body of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Also in January 1997, it was authorized to distribute lottery funding, which started a virtuous circle concerning the performance of Team GB at the Olympic Games (see figure 3).


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About the Author

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Dr. Marco Sampietro

SDA Bocconi School of Management
Milan, Italy



Marco Sampietro obtained a Ph.D. at the University of Bremen, Germany. Since 2000 he has been a professor at SDA Bocconi School of Management, Milan, Italy. SDA Bocconi School of Management is ranked among the top Business Schools in the world (Financial Times, Forbes, Bloomberg, and The Economist rankings). He is a Core Faculty Member at SDA Bocconi School of Management and teaches Project Management in the MBA – Master of Business Administration, and GEMBA – Global Executive Master of Business Administration programs. He is Faculty Member at MISB – Mumbai International School of Business, the Indian subsidiary of Bocconi University, and Visiting Professor at IHU – International Hellenic University, Greece. He is also a Contract Professor at Bocconi University and Milano Fashion Institute for the Project Management courses.

He was a speaker at the NASA Project Management Challenge 2007, 2008, and 2011, in the USA, and a speaker at the PMI Global European Congress, Italy, 2010.

He is Member of the Steering Committee of IPMA-Italy.

He is co-author and/or editor of 10 books on project management and 7 books on IT management. Among them: Empowering Project Teams. Using Project Followership to Improve Performance. CRC Press, 2014. Finally, he is the author of award-winning case studies and papers.

Dr. Sampietro can be contacted at: [email protected]

To see other works by Marco Sampietro, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/marco-sampietro/