Tuesday, August 26, 2008

On Medal Counts and Nationalism

I cannot get myself too worked up over the Olympic medal counts for a host of reasons. For one, as Eduardo Porter reminds us at The New York Times, Olympic dominance tends to go to the richest countries and the most autocratic ones. It would have been stunning had any countries other than the United States and China dominated the medal count, especially with China as the host country. But the Olympics are also about more than bean counting which teams were most successful. National pride and glory manifests itself throughout the games -- and it is both churlish and wrongheaded simply to dismiss this as boorish patriotism, given that some of the most nationalistic furor comes from smaller countries -- while at the same time the Olympics are supposed to transcend that sort of nationalism.


I do not always even support the American athletes. In sports in which Americans do not traditionally compete, I could not care less. In events when there is a serious underdog and where a victory by an athlete from a smaller country might bring some glory to that country, I'll find myself rooting for the underdog. I also root for African athletes, which should come as no surprise. I want the Americans to dominate certain sports, of course, and all things being equal I am likely to support the American team absent the treacly overcoming odds story from an international athlete or the presence of an African athlete I prefer. But at the end of the day, the Olympics are about the gathering, the experience, the competition.


The reality is that we all know who won these Olympics, for good or for ill. The United States won the overall medal count by virtue of racking up bronzes and silvers. But the Chinese won the most golds, and if we are tallying up winners, it seems bizarre to presuppose that a gold is not worth any more than the others. But in the end none of this matters. The Chinese put on a great Olympics, albeit by destroying any of the promises they made about openness in the process.


Only four years to London (and less than two to Vancouver)!

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

i find it odd that the world tallies up medals by who won the most golds, and America tallies it up by most medals. i knew when i checked on here, you would claim America won , by the fact that you won the most medals, and i am not mocking you for that, it is just two different ways, though it would be America and no other nation to do it differently, ha, it is like, in some cases, there is the world, and then there is America, and that is not an insult.
perhaps we should do it like a football league table, 3 points for gold, 2 for silver and one for bronze? though you may not approve of that, because china would have still won.
dan

dcat said...

Dan --
I think you missed the entire point of my post: I don't care who "won," at least not from a nation's overall medal tally. In the "medal count" the US inarguably won, but I, like you, would argue that golds are more significant that bronzes. I agree with you 100% -- a 3-2-1 scoring system or something along those lines would be a good way to tally if tally we must.

dcat

Anonymous said...

yes, i know what i posted was somewhat irrelevent to the post, but i felt, seeing as you briefly mentioned it, i would put forth my view. I feel as though Chia won, for the simple fact that the athletes comete for gold, not silver. however, it is all irrelevent to me. Britain came fourth, nearly third, and did the best we had since 1908, and is our best result ever, since we first lost superpower status in 1945.

dcat said...

Danny -
My guess is that for Great Britain Beijing was but prelude to London 2012 where the host country will want to shine, and I suspect that you will.

dcat

Steve said...

I thought we lost super-power status in 1776?

Anonymous said...

ha, no steve.
Dcat will confirm this when i say USA was a comparativly weak nation, and relied on a lot of help from france, fot the first half century of its existence. Britain would go on to gain the greatest empire the world had ever seen, and own over one quater of the world. after WW2, and we were in debt, and usa came out of the depression, then it all changed.
dan

Anonymous said...

yes, dcat, i did see beijing as a sort of prelude to 2012. considering the fact china is communist will help us, for when china claped down excesivly on who they aloud in the stadium, and so forth, we wil be far more democratic, and 'let the people in'.
yes, our stadium will be not as spectacular, but who needs a white elephant?, if you are aware of the saying, we will not have empty seats, as in china, we will have the best games in , at least, a very very long time.
it will be hard for us to beat 19 golds, though.
dan