- Associated Press - Thursday, July 19, 2012

LONDON — A great British Olympic performance? All the signs say yes.

Just a week before the London Games open, there are predictions the home team will return one of its biggest medal hauls ever.

Studies suggest the biggest in more than 100 years and best since the first London Games in 1908. Britain will finish fourth on the overall table and close the gap on mighty Russia to just a handful of medals, researchers say.

One study even says Britain will win more golds than the Russians this year: a major shift in the Olympic landscape, even if the United States and China still are likely to be out of sight at the front.

Even the savvy British bookmakers — who never give anything away — say Team GB is on course for an outstanding showing.

The odds favor an increase in the number of medals for the Brits from Beijing in 2008, where the team won 19 golds and 47 overall.

The British Olympic Association has set a target of 48 medals in 2012, one better than last time. That may be underplaying it — in a big way.

Team GB is on course for around 65-68 medals, instead, at least three studies think.

Not surprising, after the country poured 312 million pounds ($488 million) of National Lottery funding into British Olympic sports since 2008.

The British Olympic Association has spent 13 million pounds ($20 million) of its 21-million pound ($33 million) budget for this year just on preparing its team.

Now it hopes the cash turns into gold, silver and bronze in London.

But the BOA isn’t going to get carried away. Not with all the hard work yet to pay off.

“Off the back of the breakthrough performance Team GB delivered in Beijing, achieving our goal of winning more medals across more sports here in London won’t be easy,” BOA spokesman Darryl Seibel said. “We certainly aren’t going to catch anyone by surprise.”

Even before the surge in funding for sport, British athletes had been steadily improving at the games, going from one gold at Atlanta in 1996 and 15 medals overall — their worst showing ever — to their best since 1908 and second-best ever in Beijing four years ago.

And with the host nation set to send 542 athletes to the London Games — the biggest team at this Olympics — the medal count should rise.

Then there’s perhaps the biggest factor of all: home town advantage.

That will help push up Britain’s total by 21 medals, economists at UniCredit Bank said in one of the studies. They said the home advantage would be “substantial.”

“Home spectators’ enthusiasm can drive athletes to performance levels beyond what one would normally expect,” they wrote. “At the London Games, when 940 to 950 medals will be awarded, this home effect alone translates into an additional 21 medals for Great Britain.”

So, it’ll apparently be a great British showing at the London Games.

But not if one team has its way.

The Australians are aware of the predictions of another good showing from the Brits and don’t like that. They don’t like that one bit.

Britain’s steady improvement at the Olympics has sent their great rivals the Aussies down the pecking order recently.

Australia finished fourth on the medal table in Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004, but was pushed out by the resurgent British team four years ago.

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