Sunday, August 24, 2008

Beijing Olympics 2008

Chinese teams were able to achieve their goals more or less. Except for the failure of 110 meter hurdle king Liu Xiang, they did not have any big failures. Most of the performances were as expected. Sweep in Diving (except for a lone Australian, gay, winner) and Table Tennis were complete and emphatic.

Americans have to deal with their spectacular failures in Track and Field. At least 3 gold medals were literally thrown (4 x 100 relay for both men and women and women’s 110 meter hurdle champion Lolo Jones) along with some other failures. In Gymnastics, body blows were incurred before the start of the tournament when Hamm brothers pulled out. Alicia Sacramone’s failure cost America their Women’s Team Gold Medal in Gymnastics too.

However, all of that would not have helped America to catch with China in Gold Medals. Count for Americans might have improved to 40plus something at the most, but that is it. But American contingent is always large and certain failures are always built in. For last 3 Olympics USA has got exactly 36 Gold Medals.

(Courtesy fantastic graphics by NYT -

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2008/08/04/sports/olympics/20080804_MEDALCOUNT_MAP.html)

So one can not argue that Gold Medal performance was bad in Beijing. In fact the total medal count has been steadily increasing for last 3 summer games – 91, 102 and now 110. Even in Atlanta Olympics of 1996, Americans could only win 101 total medals with only higher gold count of 44. One can speculate that home team advantage results in higher Gold Medals and that helped China to make the great haul of 51 Gold Medals. Of course, no one is undermining what China has achieved here. Any country winning more than 50 Gold Medals in today’s highly competitive Olympics must be recognized as singularly dominant Sports Power. Last time it was Soviet Union (just before the break up) in 1998 Seoul Olympics when it won 55 Gold Medals. Americans were again 36 Gold and 94 total medals then. However compared to Seoul, Olympics games have become even more competitive and hence Chinese triumph is remarkable. It will be unlikely any country could surpass this bar for some time to come including home team except of course China repeating this feat.

But that may not be so simple going forward. For 2008 Olympics, USOC encouraged many programs apart from Swimming and Track & Field to set medal goals and some succeeded too (Fencing comes prominently to the mind). Peter Ueberroth, the outgoing USOC Chairman, has already indicated that USA will rather have more focus in ‘targeting medals’ in uncommon events too. With Great Britain’s phenomenal success in this Olympics (primarily guided by 8 Gold medals in Cycling, 4 in Sailing and 2 in Rowing; total medal haul of 47); it is clear many countries will try to emulate the Chinese formula. The countries to watch will be Russia, flush with Oil money it will try to build on their traditionally strong sports tradition; Germany and Australia, both of which did not have that much success in Beijing. This means all major sporting countries will be adopting the Chinese formula for success and hence Chinese mark of 50+ Olympic Gold Medals will be the high water mark for long time to come.

It is possible that the countries will lobby with IOC to count multiple Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals for team sports. Americans have started to set that tone. Of course it is beneficial for Americans to argue that because of the spectacular performance of Americans in Team Games. Here are the numbers:


Games considered are (men and women): Baseball, Basketball, Beach Volleyball, Field Hockey, Handball, Soccer, Softball, Volleyball and Water polo. Except for Men’s field Hockey and both Handballs, American teams qualified in all of the 13 team games. China being the host competed in all of these 16 team games.

There in lines America’s redemption at Beijing Olympics – apart from the pinnacle of individual performance by Michael Phelps, it is the team games where Americans shined. These team results and the overall highest medal count (as if to tease China) kind of makes American performance reasonably at par with China.

There have been many other notable successes at this Olympics like Jamaica, Afghanistan and even India. In short, more and more countries are winning medals at Olympics and overall competitiveness is increasing. With that context, it is clear that success of China and America is remarkable.

Politically, these games delivered for Chinese Communist Party. When you have some regional Communist Party leaders arguing that ‘you need stranglehold of the Party to get results’; it is clear that the Party got what it was looking for. Investment of over $40 Billion Dollars and 6 years of relentless nationwide efforts have paid of for China. Long live the Communist Party rule!

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