Hail the golden apprentice
Apprenticeships for elite sportsmen and women have helped Team GB to its most successful Olympic Games for 100 years.
Rebecca Adlington, the 19-year-old who has been described as Britain's best swimmer for a century after she won two gold medals for 400m and 800m freestyle, is the biggest success to date of the apprenticeship scheme.
The Advanced Apprenticeships in Sporting Excellence (AASE), launched just two years ago, are responsible for nurturing the talents of six of the British team in Beijing.
Further medal hopes are likely to depend on Sarah Stevenson, a 24-year-old who holds a silver world championship medal in taekwondo and who will compete tomorrow. Other products of the apprenticeship system are Adlington's fellow swimmer Jemma Lowe, who just missed a medal in the 4x100m medley team, 18-year-old taekwondo prospect Michael Harvey, and Britain's first Olympic synchronised swimmers for 16 years, Jenna Randall and Olivia Allison.
While Adlington and Lowe study with the Institute of Swimming, a specialist training provider accredited by the sport's governing body, the synchronised swimming pair are enrolled at Sussex Downs College and both taekwondo athletes are taking their apprenticeships at Loughborough College.
David Way, national director of apprenticeships at the Learning and Skills Council, said: "It is fantastic to see these athletes competing at the Olympics.
"They have worked extremely hard to get to Beijing and deserve their chance to compete at the highest level.
"The AASE programme has been hugely successful - Rebecca, Jenna and Olivia all received top quality training and Britain is already reaping the rewards with Rebecca's gold medals."
The swimming victories came as a surprise even to SkillsActive, the sector skills council for sport, which devised the programme. It had not expected to make an impact until the next Games.
A spokesman said: "When the AASE was developed, it was thought that athletes aiming for London 2012 would be the main benefactors, but such success has come earlier than anticipated.
"A gold medal from the Olympic Games is perhaps the best indication yet that AASE can be a successful route towards meeting its objective to help those who have the realistic potential to achieve excellence in their sport and are seeking to perform at the highest level as their main career goal."
More than 200 swimmers are part of the apprenticeship scheme, while 2,000 people across all sports enrolled over the last two years. Former students range from golf coaches to professional footballers.
The two-year course is intended to help elite athletes to maintain their rigorous training regimes while they study anything from coaching certificates to A-levels.
While it is hoped that apprentices will compete at the highest level in their sport, the course is also designed to prepare them for higher education or the world of work once their days in full-time competition are over.
As well as studying for a qualification of the athlete's choice, apprentices complete an NVQ based on their sport, which is aimed at developing their knowledge of tactics, technique, psychology, physical conditioning, lifestyle, career management and communications.
Like any NVQ student, they must submit a portfolio demonstrating what they have learned to complete the course, but for those whose achievements have been broadcast live to millions, the job might prove a little easier.