By Kate Holton
DORNEY, England (Reuters) - As things stands, if the British rowing squad formed their own country they would lie eighth in the overall London 2012 Olympic medals table, behind Italy but ahead of North Korea and Russia.
The quite incredible statistic shows just how far the British team has come in recent years, driven initially by the exploits of five-times Olympic champion Steve Redgrave who began his gold medal run in Los Angeles in 1984.
The introduction of funding from the National Lottery in the late 1990s took the system to another level, allowing the best rowers in the squad to become professional and train full time.
Tall rowers are now scouted at schools, colleges and from other sports. They receive funding to allow them to train full time and much of the year is spent abroad on warm-weather training camps.
The programme is overseen by the best coaches in the world.
"Sport is sport, you have winners and losers, you can't buy the medals so you have to find the best way to be the best," the men's coach Jurgen Grobler said. "That is what we did."
In one moment of over excitement a British television commentator declared that Britain had become the new East Germany in its ability to churn out medal winners, in an unfortunate comparison for a system now known to have been heavily backed by performance enhancing drugs.
Grobler has been chief coach of Britain's men's rowing team since 1992. He had previously been an Olympic rowing coach in East Germany.
Spectators watching the action on Dorney Lake over the last four days could not escape the fact that Britain now dominates the sport, topping the medal table for a second Games running, with four gold medals, two silvers and three bronzes from a possible 14 events.
At least three of the crews who won silver or bronze medals looked disgusted with the result.
The consistently strong performance by the British team is a far cry from where the sport was just 15 years ago, when it mostly relied on rowers taught at private schools.
Carried by the success of Redgrave and his partner Matthew Pinsent, the sport excelled in men's heavyweight rowing events but struggled to even make the final in women's crews, sculling events and lightweight boats as they repeatedly trailed the likes of Germany, Australia, Romania and Russia.
In a sign of how broad the British team is, the squad has now excelled in all those categories. The British women's pair of Heather Stanning and Helen Glover won the first women's rowing gold medal on Wednesday while the men's lightweight double took gold in Beijing and silver at London.
The women's lightweight double took gold on Saturday.
"The British team, no one would dispute, have been really clever and very intelligent in how they use their money," Matt Smith, the executive director of the international rowing body FISA, told reporters.
"And the result is fantastic team leadership, fantastic coaches and great athletes who have had the platform built under them to perform. Everyone is jealous like hell of how smart and intelligent they've been and how much money they have.
"I never thought my sport would have so much money, that there would be so much professionalism."
(Editing by Nigel Hunt)