Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Medal count blog.

September 1st has long had some resonance with me, maybe because it’s the exit signpost for summer, and the gate to a new school year, even though school seldom started exactly on that day, and even though I haven’t been a student of any kind for more than 20 years.

I had time today for a look at Monday’s Chicago Tribune, which published its final section on the Olympics. (I am often a few days behind in looking at newspapers.) Throughout the entire Games, the paper keep a running tally of medals won by the six nations that led in that regard, front and center on the first page of the Olympic special section (the US, Russia, China, Australia, Germany, Japan).

TV yammerers would have us believe that the final big story is that Team USA scooped up 100+ bits of Olympic glory. Certainly that’s an achievement of a high order, though I believe more for the individuals involved rather than their nations. But even if you insist on comparing nations, I don’t think the American totals or the Chinese totals are the real news.

After all, in the first case, it’s the United States you’re talking about -- nearly 300 million of us, with a history of kicking butt in all kinds of activities. As for China, you’re talking about a despotic government aching for international athletic laurels and more than a billion people as raw material. Of course China’s going to pile up the medals, just as the Soviet Union used to. Even more in 2008, probably.

Japan, population about 126 million, exceeded all expectations, winning 37 all together. We followed that count pretty closely over the last two weeks, and Lilly was prone to cheer for the Japanese athletes. But the amazing Olympic effort this time was Australia. With a population just shy of 20 million, it took home 49 medals.

Compare the per capita medal counts (something I didn’t see in the papers). Roughly speaking, since I’m going to round things off. Australia bagged one medal per 444,000 people. The United States only got one per 2.8 million. And China brought home only one per 15.8 million. Thought of this way, Australia rules.

I also enjoy poking around the bottom of the medal table, seeing which nations only got one, period. One gold only: Cameroon, the Dominican Republic, Ireland, the UAE. One silver only: Hong Kong, India, Paraguay. One bronze only: Columbia. Eritrea, Mongolia, Syria and Trinidad & Tobago.


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