Sunday, September 02, 2007

Osaka 2007

Latest edition of World Championship in Athletics concluded in Osaka. Video clips are enthralling. Pole vault is great to watch as well as the relay races.

Americans did well and topped as expected (winning 14 out of 47 Gold Medals at stake). Surprisingly it generates much less news in America. The news making rounds in American media is about the ongoing Basketball championship of Americas in Las Vegas. American basketball team is trying to recover from losses in last few Olympics. In this championship in Las Vegas, they have beaten everyone with more than double digit point difference and have qualified for Beijing 08.

Back in Osaka, the real news of significance is about smaller countries like Kenya, Jamaica and Ethiopia. The former two countries winning more than 10 medals in this World Championship! These are the only other two countries apart from USA and Russia with medal count in double digits. Even the power house of united Germany could not win more than 7 medals. These championships are always bit of 'insider professional' affair than for 'public all' affairs of Olympics and hence are most competitive. The singular focus on one sport, compared to more than 14 or 15 sports at Olympics, help to attain higher standards too.

Performance from Russian Team has been good too. There is a talk of resurgence of old Cold War rivalry. One of the Russian Gold Medallists in Osaka commented that depth and intense competition among Russian athletics team is so high that, she is not even sure whether she would qualify for Beijing 08 even after Osaka Gold Medal! Indeed 2 decades after the fall of Soviet Union, Russia is back on the world sporting stage (or political stage too?).

Chinese Athlete Xiang Liu, carrying the weight of Billion plus country’s expectations, won the 110 meters men’s hurdle race. That is their only gold and overall count of 3 medals. Though the medal count is low for China, their total placing table count is quite high – 51. For Americans it is 249, Russia 191, Kenya 123 and Jamaica 98. When an athlete finishes 8th in the final race or competition, he or she gets 1 point. 8th position still matters since you compete in the final only after winning qualifying rounds. For the 7th placed athlete it is 2 points, all the way up to 8 points for the Gold Medallist. Higher placing table count indicates the dominance of a country team. By that account China is getting quite ready to have a block buster performance in Beijing 2008.

Overall 45 countries got at least one medal, vast majority being 1 or 2 medals. Sri Lanka, Japan, Switzerland, Netherlands, Greece could manage 1 Bronze medal each. It has been a disappointing tournament for the host Japan. Some 19 countries managed to get at least some points on the placing table even if no medal. Some of the notable countries in this group are Romania, Mexico, S. Africa, Egypt, Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Notably absent from this entire list of 64 countries (medals or at least placing points) are India (very disappointing), Pakistan, Indonesia, Vietnam, S. Korea, Argentina and Chile.

By and large the pattern of omission and winners in Beijing 2008 be along the lines developed here. Except that American Olympic Committee is already trying to set the expectations low considering that the Chinese contingent will be the most favored to loot the highest medals overall in their home stadiums.

The question will be to what an extent older Cold War rivalry will start to be replayed back with the 3 way tussle among USA, China and Russia. Will those will be the poles of International Politics in years to come? Well, life is never that straight and clean. It is quite complex than that. But in any case sports rivalries are fun to watch and to perpetuate. Without that drama, games will be dull. Looking at just concluded Osaka competition, it is clear that excitement and rivalry will not be in short supply in Beijing 2008.

Umesh Patil
Cupertino, CA 95014
September 2, 2007.

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