Educational backgrounds of Olympic medallists

Report Overview

A new generation of comprehensive educated Olympic medallists – including Laura Trott and Mo Farah – is challenging the traditional dominance of independent schools in elite sports. However, Team GB’s top Olympians are still four times more likely to have been privately educated than the population as a whole, particularly in sports like rowing and hockey.

Key Findings

  • Less than a third (32%) of Britain’s 130 medallists attended fee-paying schools, a four percentage point reduction from London 2012, when 36% of Team GB’s medal-winners were privately educated.
  • 60% of this year’s British medallists were educated at comprehensive schools and 8% went to grammar schools. 92% of the medal-winning cyclists were educated at either a comprehensive or a state grammar school.
  • Although the proportion of privately educated athletes in Team GB this year was higher than in 2012 – up from 20 to 28% – the proportion of medallists educated at comprehensives has grown. 62% of medals were won by comprehensive educated athletes compared to 30% for those educated at independent schools. When total numbers of medals are considered, ten of the 13 athletes to win more than one medal are comprehensive educated.
  • But there are still some Olympic sports that remain dominated by the privately educated. Over half (52%) of Team GB’s medal winning rowers attended fee-paying schools as did 50% of the winning women’s hockey team.
  • An Old Etonian has won a medal at every Olympic Games since 1992, in either rowing or an equestrian sport.

Table 1: Medallists by school attended, London and Rio Olympic Games

2012 (London) 2016 (Rio)
Comprehensive 56% 60%
Independent 36% 32%
Grammar 8% 8%

Table 2: Medals by school of winner, Rio Olympic Games

Comprehensive 62%
Independent 30%
Grammar 8%


Table 3: Multi-medallists by school attended, Rio Olympic Games

Comprehensive 77%
Independent 15%
Grammar 8%

August 22, 2016