By Stuart Wiggin
The London 2012 Olympics conclude on Sunday, August 12. The medal table has been commanded throughout by America and China, but there is no doubt that this year's hosts have emerged as one of the more successful countries at this year's Games, characterized by the celebrations carried out regardless of the color of the medals won. Not only have Great Britain improved on their medal haul from four years ago, they have also done so across a vast number of different sports, second only to China in this respect. Aside from some teething problems with officiating and rules, a problem for the International Olympic Committee rather than the London Olympic Organizing Committee, the Games have been a resounding success and have provided a real boost for the home nation during a time when many families are feeling the pinch.
Fans cheer on Bradley Wiggins of Great Britain as he competes in the men's Individual Time Trial Road Cycling on Day 5 of the London 2012 Olympic Games. [Photo: Agencies]
As many commentators have already noted, both China and America place an undue amount of importance upon achieving gold medals. China recently celebrated its 200th gold medal across all summer Olympic competitions, though this pales in comparison to America's total, and the country is locked in competition with America to top this year's medal table, both in terms of gold medals and total medals overall. Meanwhile, Great Britain has been having an amazing Summer Games, racking up a respectable amount of medals.
In Beijing, Great Britain won 47 medals in all including 19 golds. This year's host nation has surpassed the number of medals gained in 2008 in their best Olympic showing since 1908. And despite Britain's storied history, the nation is still clearly punching above its weight when one takes into account population size and GDP. According to an alternative medal table, created by the BBC in coordination with Meghan Busse from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, the US should top the medal tally, followed by China; based on the assumption that a bigger population provides a larger pool of potential athletes and more money means better training. According to this table, Britain should finish eight. Obviously, Great Britain and a number of other countries have proved that GDP and population size are not good indicators for predicting success.
Clearly, funding for sports in Britain is working, especially when one recalls the Atlanta Games in 1996 where Britain finished 36th on the medal table. However, the economic crisis may not have taken its full effect on sports funding, and this may only become apparent by the time the next Olympic Games rolls around. For now, however, the British Olympic Committee will hardly be thinking about that, as it was in London where they really wanted their country to shine.
But it hasn't been all about medals. The Beijing Games were about a country's desire to prove itself on the national stage; and what better way to prove oneself than to claim more golds than any other nation. However, the London Games appear to be about spirit rather than success. And while most countries will officially state that taking part matters more than the final result, that clearly isn't the case. U.S Olympic Committee spokesman Patrick Sandusky has said as much when he said, "Our goal coming into the games was certainly to finish top of the medal count." Furthermore, nobody is under any illusion tat team GB is not pursuing as many gold medals as possible. But the British public has viewed this year's Olympics in a typically British way; fiercely proud of their underdog status.
Alexander Zhukov, head of Russia's Olympic Committee, summed this up best when referring to the psyche of his nation's, and possibly many other nations' fans. Zhurkov stated, "It seems to me that the expectations of many of our fans are too high: only gold! I read the Daily Telegraph every day and the British have no such expectations. With them, if someone gets into the final he's already a hero, and everyone writes about him. And our folks say: You're happy with a bronze?! I'm astonished."
The headlines for Rio 2016 will probably focus on the issue of the rise of developing countries as nations like Brazil and India continue to pour much-needed funding into sports programs, the signs of which have only just started to show through at this year's Games. However, this year's overriding theme is the way in which the British public has embraced the Games in such a way that the Olympic spirit is still very much alive and well.
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