Breeding an Olympic athlete isn’t an exact science – it’s not like we’ve found a way to develop pole-jumping skills in a petri dish – but there are ways you can spot if your progeny is heading for the fast lane.
We asked the mothers of British Olympic hopefuls what made their children into great athletes. Here's our handy guide to working out if you've got a nipper who's going to spend a lot of time standing on a podium waving.
1. Good parents
Obviously, your abilities as a supportive and nurturing parent are very important – after all, someone's got to do the daily shuttle run to and from the training ground at 6am every morning – but that's not really the key to a child's success.
Really, the most important thing you can do for your child is provide them with the very best genes you can. There's increasing evidence that shows some people are just born to be sporty – they get fitter quicker than other humans. And if you've passed on good co-ordination, a decent physical frame and a clean medical history, you're giving your child the best possible start in life. If possible, you should also think about being an Olympic athlete yourself.
Alison Powell is the mother of track and field athlete, Jessica Ennis. She tells us “I was quite sporty…my dad has been sporty all his life… her dad was into running.” Meanwhile, Paralympic runner, Ben Rushgrove’s mum, Alison explains, “we are a sporty family, if you come to our family you can always find someone who does sport. My husband plays squash and tennis, he’s a hockey player – you name it we all play one sport or another. But it’s not all doom and gloom if you can’t vouch for your genetic stock: Carol Hoy, mother of cycling supremo, Chris, has no idea where he got his sporting talent from, “I don’t have a bone in my body that’s into any sport at all, so it’s not from me”, she tells us.
[Related feature: Best of Britain: Talent to watch for]
2. The right star-sign
But it doesn't end at good genes. If it’s not too late to plan these things, you really need to try to have your child as near to the start of the academic year as you can.
Children who start school as one of the oldest in their class find excelling at sports an awful lot easier – partly because they're way ahead physically and emotionally, but also because the talent scouts usually only visit once a year and they're going to favour the taller, stronger, older athletes.
Canadian psychologist, Roger Barnsley, has studied this “Relative Age Effect” which confuses maturity with ability. As his studies have shown, there aren’t many professional footballers born after February in the UK.
In fact, all the Olympic parents we interviewed had children born between September and February, apart from Chris Hoy who was born in March. The only exception was swimmer Liam Tancock. But his mother used to swim for her county and his nickname is “the tank”, so his size and natural sportiness have seen him through.
3. Competitive spirit
It's not something that's generally seen as a good thing by British standards. There's still a faint whiff of "it's just not gentlemanly" to be seen to be trying too hard. But as every athlete who's ever gone on to Strictly Come Dancing proves, a world-class sportsperson wants to win. Really wants to win.
And it's not just the desire to win that's important -- it's what that desire does to you. Being a competitive soul doesn't REALLY mean being a bad loser – although it often manifests itself in young people that way (until you teach them that stomping off in a huff when someone beats you at sleeping lions isn't really cricket). But, wanting to win more than anything else gives you the drive and determination to keep on where others might call it a day.
As Carol Hoy explains, “Anything [Chris] did he had to do it to the utmost. He was very enthusiastic about everything he did – not in a bad way – if he came second or third he didn’t throw the bike down or stop doing it, he thought about how he could improve and did.”
4. Obsessive nature
Once you've got all the basics sorted (good birthday, good genes, competitive spirit), the thing that separates the soloists from the rest of the orchestra is simply down to numbers - i.e. the number of hours of practice your child puts in.
Being competitive is important, but being determined to work harder, faster and longer even when you're not feeling your best, takes a very special kind of character.
David Beckham is famous for his OCD tendencies, and Jonny Wilkinson has kicked that rugby ball over the bar so many times it's almost harder for him to miss than it is for him to score.
While you don't really want to be encouraging your child to develop mental tics and deep-seated psychological issues, a grain of that obsessive nature is going to take them far.
Kim Tancock, mother of Olympic swimmer, Liam explains:
From the age of about 5 years old, he was a very quiet child but the minute you put sport in front of him he would find something else from inside him, [he] become a different person. It didn’t matter what it was, he really was determined to be good at it. I don’t know where it came from – it was just part of him. He just wants to be the best at whatever it is he is doing.
Meanwhile, Jessica Ennis’s mother says, “all through her childhood once she completed one thing she as onto the next thing: she wanted to know what time we were doing things, she was very organised and very focused.
5. A pair of lucky pants
It doesn't HAVE to be pants, but pants are a good place to start. If your child won't walk on the cracks in the pavement and refuses to move past a lone magpie until it's been thoroughly saluted, you've got yourself a superstitious one. And it's well-known fact that sports people are superstitious. Tom Daley's got his special monkey; Jessica Ennis has her lucky doll and Chris Hoy’s mum had to force herself to stop wearing the same shoes and earrings for every race.
Obviously, we're not really suggesting you foster superstitions in your child, but if your sports-loving infant already pays attention to things like that, chances are they've discovered a talent for sport, a desire to win and a passion to repeat that success every time -- even if it means wearing the same knickers for every race.
At the heart of Team Mum is the video series Raising an Olympian, sponsored by Proctor and Gamble, profiling athletes from across the world, their dedicated efforts to make it to Olympic Games, and the mothers who had tremendous impacts on their lives. Watch the videos on Yahoo! Lifestyle Team Mum.