Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The View From Olympus


I miss being able to watch the Olympics. Much as I hate the usual NBC distractions, would be happy never to see Bob Costas ever again, the competitions themselves are fun, exciting, admirable. Makes me feel like a slug, but I can rise above it, as I could above a high-jump bar set at twelve inches.

Mitt Romney, of course, thinks our medal count proves American exceptionalism, and I suppose it does, the way my removing a gallbladder, including taking an operative X-ray, in twelve minutes (personal best) does. I wonder if he'd keep funding the USOC, and if so, why? I don't have the numbers, but I'm thinking Planned Parenthood does more for the national health, and PBS and NPR more for the general level of education. But still.

I've always puzzled over the nationalistic aspects of the games. Raising the flags, playing the anthems of the winners. It seems to me it's about individual accomplishment, the unimaginable hard work and commitment of athletically gifted people, often overcoming daunting surroundings. And whereas it's obviously true that some countries, like China and breakaways from the former CCCP, commit tons of effort and money to find, support, train, and deify them, to the extent that countries deserve credit, it's sort of the opposite of the Olympic ideal.

Anyway, for better or worse, the USA USA USA won the medal count, if that was the goal. Don't get me wrong: I think it's as cool to see athletes tearing up when the SSB is played as it is annoying to see some acting like they don't care. I rooted for the women's soccer and basketball teams like everyone else. (Sorry to say, I'd not have been crushed if Lebron and Kobe had had their asses handed to them; on the other hand, I like Kevin Durant, even after he left these parts.) But here's another way to look at it: if you count medals against population, other countries have much more to be proud of than we do. Here's the data (the link includes charts for total medals, etc, as well):

85 countries have won medals. 302 gold medals awarded.

Gold medals per million population

RankCountryGoldSilverBronzeGold/Million
1Grenada1009.1734
2Bahamas1003.1627
3New Zealand6251.3863
4Jamaica4441.3845
5Trinidad and Tobago1030.8154
6Hungary8450.8033
7Croatia3120.6696
8Lithuania2120.5673
9Slovenia1120.5008
10Great Britain2917190.4600
11Latvia1010.4563
12Cuba5360.4515
13Norway2110.4249
14Kazakhstan7150.3995
15Czech Republic4330.3930
16Denmark2430.3608
17Netherlands6680.3586
18Australia716120.3180
19Republic of Korea13870.2661
20Switzerland2200.2612
21Georgia1330.2188
22Ireland1130.2118
23Azerbaijan2260.2107
24Belarus2550.2096
25Russian Federation2426320.1738
26France1111120.1676
27Democratic People's Republic of Korea4020.1627
28United States of America4629290.1466
29Serbia1120.1374
30Germany1119140.1353
31Ukraine6590.1338
32Italy89110.1306
33Sweden1430.1098
34Dominican Republic1100.0991
35Tunisia1110.0932
36Romania2520.0915
37Spain31040.0638
38South Africa3210.0615
39Japan714170.0550
40Poland2260.0521
41Islamic Republic of Iran4530.0507
42Kenya2450.0465
43Venezuela1000.0357
44Uzbekistan1030.0352
45Ethiopia3130.0320
46Canada15120.0292
47People's Republic of China3827230.0283
48Algeria1000.0282
49Uganda1000.0279
50Turkey2210.0251
51Argentina1120.0237
52Colombia1340.0221
53Brazil3590.0146
54Mexico1330.0087


Make of it what you will. I loved watching the whole thing, including the opening and closing, and I'm glad "our" athletes did well, even though I had as much to do with it as I did with the drought devastating our middle parts but John Boehner thinks Obama did.

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