I haven’t watched a single event in the London Olympics, not because I begrudge anyone the enjoyment of same, but rather because I have a tendency to think the Olympics intensify the problem of ridiculous nationalism instead of relieve it. There have certainly been enough examples of the Olympics being used as showcases for ugly regimes: 1936 in Berlin, 1980 in Moscow, 2008 in Beijing. There have also been horrifying killings associated with the Olympics: 1968 in Mexico City (the Mexican government’s massacre of protesters in Tlatelolco), 1972 in Munich (the attack by Palestinian terrorists on Israeli athletes). There are legendary stories of how far countries would go to dope up their players…all one has to do is say “East Germany” to conjure up images of that. And let’s not even get started on cheating scandals and corrupt judges: the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics (brought to you by Mitt Romney, by the way) was particularly known for those.
But if we are going to cast the Olympics in the proper light, maybe we should spend less time going on about how demographically large countries are “winning the medal count” and focus instead on how it’s surprising that demographically small countries win medals. I mean, seriously, how impressive is it that the US and China, with respective populations of 314 million and 1.347 billion, are leading in the medal count? Shouldn’t the real question be who is leading in the “Olympic Medals per capita”?
Understood this way, the real winners in this Olympics, thus far, appear to be places like Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Slovenia and Denmark.
If you throw in some consideration of the poverty of the competing country, the success of small places like Grenada and Jamaica is all the more impressive. Check out the Gross Domestic Product – Purchasing Power Parity of the world’s nations:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)_per_capita … isn’t it interesting how Grenada is 66 out of 183 on the International Monetary Fund’s list and still managed to get a medal? Jamaica is 88 out of 183 and managed to get nine medals. Even China looks like it has done something a bit more impressive winning as many medals as it has given its location at 92 of 183 on this list, its demographic advantage notwithstanding. The US, however, is at number 6 of 183. It’s not at all shocking that a country that rich would be able to impressively fund its Olympic training programs and turn out scads of victorious athletes.
And yet, do people really get that raw Olympic medal counts represent an unfair consideration? Judging from this New York Times article, entitled “And The Olympic Gold For Whining Goes To…”, no, people don’t get that: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/09/sports/olympics/olympic-medal-count-can-be-daily-source-of-discontent.html?pagewanted=all .
Here’s a quote from the article: “As one Olympic behemoth covets a smaller country’s medals, the pipsqueaks are finding mathematical ways to make their triumphs seem more impressive. During an interview last week, a public relations representative from Slovenia pulled out a chart titled ‘Olympic Glory in Proportion.’ It divided the country’s two medals by its total population — two million — and put Slovenia at No. 1 in the category of medals per capita.”
The medal count has slightly changed since that article was published, but the muscle-bound idiocy of the article remains as fresh as the day it was written. If anything, we should be more impressed by the performance of the “pipsqueaks”. The fact that we’re not says a lot about us, not about them.
(Of course, perhaps we should be the most impressed by countries which avoid this jingoistic nonsense entirely and spend their money on economic development, rather than fielding a squad of Olympians which would allow them to stick foam Number 1 fingers in the air in their national colours.)