Forget London and Yorkshire – north-west England is the new home of Team GB’s Olympics medal factory.
Athletes from the region – including Britain’s most decorated Olympian, Jason Kenny – took to the podium 22 times at Tokyo 2020, more than any other part of Britain.
When duplicate awards for the same event are removed, the region secured 19 medals in Japan – seven gold, five silver and seven bronzes – which would be enough for 14th in the medal table if north-west England were a country.
This was one fewer than New Zealand but ahead of many countries including Spain, Cuba and the Czech Republic.
Greater London came second in the regional tally, with 20 medals, while the Midlands and south-east England were tied on 18 each and Scottish athletes took to the podium 13 times.
Yorkshire, which has long revelled in its heroics at the London 2012 Games, finished seventh in the British tally with eight medals.
The Guardian analysis is based on the birthplaces of each Team GB athlete and includes those who have won more than one medal. For example, swimmer Duncan Scott – who became the first British Olympian to win four medals at a single Games – counts as four medals for Scotland.
Six of north-west England’s 22 medals were for swimming and five for cycling. Ten were won by women including Charlotte Worthington, 25, who won gold in the freestyle BMX, and Anna Hopkin, 25, who won gold as part of the 4x100m mixed medley relay.
Wirral-born Chris Boardman, who in 1992 won Britain’s first Olympic cycling gold for 72 years, said part of the region’s success was down to its investment in world-class venues where young athletes can train alongside global champions.
“In 1994 we got the velodrome and then we had a centre of excellence, which meant that newcomers could be training alongside Olympic gold medallists. Success breeds success,” he said.
After winning gold in the women’s madison event, Laura Kenny and Katie Archibald revealed the secret of their win: deprived of international racing during Covid, they had repeatedly simulated the chaotic event in the velodrome with the help of the under-23 squad. “Won in Tokyo, made in Manchester,” said their coach, Monica Greenwood, after their victory.
All of Team GB’s track cyclists and BMX riders train at the National Cycling Centre, Manchester, which includes a BMX arena and mountain bike circuit as well as the velodrome.
The centre was built for Manchester’s doomed bid to host the 2000 Olympics. A postmortem into why the organisers chose Sydney instead concluded “no one in their right mind would spend three weeks in Manchester rather than Sydney”.
After its ego healed, the city then bid successfully to host the 2002 Commonwealth Games. That led to the construction of more international-standard venues, including the Manchester Aquatics Centre. The only swimming centre in the UK to have two 50-metre swimming pools under one roof, it is where James Guy honed his stroke. GB Taekwondo’s senior and junior athletes also train in Manchester, at the National Taekwondo Centre in Newton Heath, not far from Manchester City’s Etihad ground.
There were calls for Bolton-born Jason Kenny to receive a knighthood as the final Team GB athletes returned home on Monday.
The 33-year-old, who rose to prominence at the London Olympics, became the first Briton to win seven Olympic gold medals following his defence of the men’s keirin cycling title. His two medals in Tokyo makes him Britain’s most decorated Olympian, while his wife, Laura Kenny, is the country’s most successful female Olympian.
Alex Devany, the headteacher of Jason Kenny’s former school, Mount St Joseph, said: “We think he definitely deserves a knighthood alongside Sir Chris Hoy and Sir Bradley Wiggins.
“We are immensely proud of all his achievements and we have thoroughly enjoyed watching him thrive and succeed over the years since he left school in 2004 – from Beijing back in 2008, then in London, Rio and now Tokyo.”