There's a temptation (a very British temptation) when looking at the Beijing medal table to ask how on earth are we going to do better than that in London.

It's a fair question. This has, after all, been Great Britain's most successful Olympics since our croquet-inspired domination of the 1908 Games.

What's not fair, however, is to just give up after asking the question and wait for the inevitable disappointment to arrive. As Henry Ford once said, "If you think you can, you can. And if you think you can't, you're right."

So it is to the British Olympic Association's credit that it has asked the question and come up with an answer.

Its "Ambition 2012" programme is perhaps the most impressive initiative the often-maligned organisation has undertaken since ignoring Margaret Thatcher's call to boycott the Moscow Games in 1980.

Adding to our haul of 19 golds, 13 silvers and 15 bronzes will not be easy in London, but by giving 152 young hopefuls and their coaches a taste of the Olympics here, the BOA has made it that bit easier.

Perri Shakes-Drayton

Speak to any Olympian, past or present, and they will tell you the same thing: the size and scale of the Games blow you away at first and how you deal with that can determine your entire Olympic experience - any way of diminishing that jolt to the system can only help.

The anecdotal evidence is supported by BOA research - 70% of Team GB's gold medallists have competed at an Olympics before, 55% of our total medallists have already experienced an Olympics.

The BOA has often been criticised in the past for being little more than a glorified travel agent, so it is ironic that Ambition 2012 is the best summer holiday our next crop of Chris Hoys and Rebecca Adlingtons could ever hope for.

The 127 athletes and 25 coaches - representing 33 of the 38 Olympic disciplines - have made the trip east in five waves, each spending a week visiting Team GB's holding camp in Macau, touring the Olympic Village in Beijing and watching the sports they hope to compete in come 2012.

Craig Hunter, the project's manager, said the idea was hatched soon after London won the bid in 2005 and is proud to be associated with a scheme that has already attracted "why didn't we think of that?" glances from other countries, the United States in particular.

"We think it's a superb opportunity for the athletes and will enhance our medal potential in 2012," said Hunter.

"One of the greatest experiences we could give them was a trip to the Olympic Village. With 16,500 living in there and a dining area that seats 5,000 it can be fairly daunting for a lot of young athletes."

Integral to the programme has been the involvement of former Olympians as mentors. One of those is Denise Lewis, who earned a bronze in the heptathlon in Atlanta in 1996 before striking gold in Sydney four years later.

"I became involved because of my own Olympic experience," said Lewis. "I remember what it was like for my first Olympics - I was completely terrified and quite overwhelmed.

Denise Lewis

"Luckily I did OK in Atlanta but if I can impart some of my knowledge or offer any advice to these young athletes then I think it's a job well done.

"You need to almost demystify the Olympics. You need to treat it as just another competition. These guys are good enough - there are some athletes here (on the programme) who were painfully close to making the team.

"If you can allow them to see what it's like so they are not completely blown away by the experience then hopefully they'll be the best prepared athletes going into the London Games."

One of those athletes painfully close to getting a ticket to the main gig was Perri Shakes-Drayton: some might say the 19-year-old was painfully unlucky not to get the nod.

But Shakes-Drayton, the top-ranked 400m hurdler in her age group at the 2006 World Juniors, isn't the type to dwell on what might have been - she is too busy looking forward to what promises to be a glittering career in a GB vest.

"Getting the chance to come here and experience the atmosphere was amazing," said Shakes-Drayton, who attended the athletics the night fellow east Londoner Phillips Idowu went so close to triple jump gold.

"I was looking at the track and thinking what it would be like to be down there with all those people in the stands looking at me. I tried to imagine what it would it be like if they were all there to see me."

She should get the chance to experience that for real in 2012. Born and raised in Poplar, she won't be short of encouragement in Stratford.

But Shakes-Drayton, who won silver at the European Juniors last year, is an old hand at this big stage stuff compared to others on the trip. She has been mixing with some of her sport's biggest names for a while and seemed to be taking the entire Beijing experience in her leggy stride.

Where the programme could and should pay real dividends is with the likes of taekwondo player Jordan Gayle. A silver medallist at the Youth Olympics in Sydney last year, the 16-year-old Mancunian has been in superb form on the European circuit this year. But an Olympics is a very different proposition, isn't it?

"I think the best thing about coming here is that I've now seen for myself that the Olympics are just another tournament," said Gayle, with all the cool a teenage martial artist can muster.

Consider the Olympics demystified, Denise. I don't think Jordan will be tiring himself out chasing autographs in London either. He was far more impressed with seeing three taekwondo players I had never heard of than his encounter with Asafa Powell in the queue for lunch.

Open water swimmer Daniel Fogg was another to impress me with his infectious enthusiasm for what he does and his belief that he belongs here.

"Despite sitting in the rain for two hours [at Thursday's open water race] I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else," said Fogg. "It was brilliant to watch the best athletes in the world and it just filled me with a load of emotions that I want to be there next time."

Like Shakes-Drayton, the 20-year-old Loughborough student was probably unlucky to miss out this time. His time will come, though, as I hope it will for all those who made this Olympic recce.

Of course, four years is a long time and a few who came to Beijing will not get the chance to experience Village life for real in London.

But those who do make it will be better off for the taste they got here, and those who don't have an amazing story to tell their mates when they're asked "What did you do for your summer holidays?"

Matt Slater is a BBC Sport journalist focusing on sports news. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have.


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