The Beijing Olympic Games, which just ended Sunday, seem to have spawned a controversy regarding which country ‘won ‘ . China was comfotably ahead in gold medals ( 51 to 36) while the United States had more total medals ( 110 to 101). This has never happened before ; until now , the country winning the most medals also had the most gold medals. The situation is similar to the U.S Presidential election where it is possible for one candidate to win the popular vote while the other wins on the basis of electoral votes.
Thus, China can claim ‘victory’ at Beijing on the basis of most gold medals. That is the way the medals table has been set up in the past. They can also claim that gold is the only medal that matters, the silver and bronze are only consolation prizes for the ‘losers’. American sports fans will say ‘ Not so fast! If siver and bronze have no meaning, why award them at all? They do have meaning and the nation that wins more total medals is #1.”
Both positions have some merit and , on the other hand, neither has any merit.
To any true sports fan, the idea of the Olympic Medals table and of a country, any country, ‘winning’ the Olympics is pure anathema.
The Olympics began in ancient Greece as a contest between individuals , not between countries, though this fact seems to have been mostly forgotten. Somewhere in the modern era, the idea of countries competing in the Olympics came into being and the athletes found themselves playing the part of surrogate soldiers. In times of political tension, winning at the Olympics became a symbol of national pride and the medals table became the scoreboard. The pressures of winning for one’s country have led to all manner of abuses. When the Olympics were restricted to amateurs, the Russia circumvented the rules by packing their teams with armymen and ‘students’ some of them 30 years old.Later, the East German swimmers took to steroids in a big way with their ‘ win at all costs’ approach. In diving and gymnastics events, the judges often voted according to their Cold War affiliations rather than what they saw in the pool or on the mat. To be sure, some steroid users did what they did for individual gold but several of the transgressors did so because of their countries’ ambitions and with the active connivance of their national sports organizations.
A true sports fan doesn’t care which country sits atop the medals table. Let China and the United States both claim ‘victory’. A real sports lover will revel in the performances of individuals regardless of the country to which he belongs. He will appreciate the grit and determination of Michael Phelps, the utter domination of Usain Bolt, the discipline and artistry of the divers and gymnasts( all of them) and he will also spare a thought for those who struggled against insurmountable odds merely in order to compete.