Monday, August 13, 2012

Medals per Capita - Olympic Games 2012

In my post of Saturday July 27, 2012, I mentioned that I was sad that the Tour de France had ended. I had written the post the night before and published it at 1:00 am on Saturday morning. When I turned the TV on later than morning I was surprised to see some cycling event – I thought it was a Tour de France rerun, truly. Then I realized that the background did not look like some French country village and noticed a pub – it was a biking event for the Olympic Games! I kept watching and was very happy when Alexander Vinokourov of Kazakhstan came ahead of all the others and won the gold medal. Here he is below at the Tour de France 2012 (photo Wikimedia Creative Commons.)

Vino, as he is called, started bicycling when he was 11 years old. He was in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games as an amateur and finished 53rd. I saw him in many Tours de France, wearing the Kazakhstan’s colors of turquoise and gold. Last year I was watching the Tour de France live on TV when Vino plunged into a deep ditch with his bike. Two people had to go and retrieve him. I was hoping he was not hurt but he was – his femur was broken and he had to abandon the Tour. At the time he decided to retire but this year he returned into competitive cycling for one last year and made this unexpected victory. At 38 he can be very happy to have been victorious at the Olympic Games and defeating, by himself, the British cycling “dream team” and obtaining a gold medal for the men’s cycling road race. Vinokourov shown below with the gold medal (image source: Creative Commons Flickr user Lee.)

I watched a number of events on television during the Olympic Games but had to stop several times because there were too many commercial breaks. I read that television coverage was much better in Canada and Norway where a great variety of events were shown to completion with minimum commercials. Here, both the opening and closing ceremonies were edited for the US viewing audience. The British public was shocked to find out that the tribute to the victims of the “7/7 terrorist attacks” performance had been censored by NBC. NBC Spokesman said “Our programming is tailored for the US audience” - an interview with swimmer Phelps was inserted instead. I read a blogger who wrote “Can you imagine the BBC opting to cut out a tribute to 9/11 at a future Olympics held in the States because it wasn't "tailored for a UK audience"?' Since I did not see the Olympic Games in London I have to rely on photographs in the public domain, those without a copyright or some very mediocre shots taken from my small TV. Below is the Olympic Monument at the International Olympic Committee Building in Lausanne, Switzerland (public domain photo.)

During the week, I watched the US Men’s National Basketball team play against the Lithuanian Basketball team. LeBron James of the USA scored 20 points against the Lithuanians. The US team won by 99 to 94. I read about the US Men’s National Basketball team (Team USA) and saw that they were talented professionals picked from several states. They include players like Lebron James from the Miami Heat (originally from Ohio,) Kobe Bryant from the Los Angeles Lakers (originally from Phladelphia, PA,) Tyson Chandler from the New York Knicks (originally from California,) Kevin Durant from the Oklahoma City Thunder (originally from Washington, DC.) Then I looked at Lithuania – it is slightly larger than West Virginia with a population of 3,192,800. Below is Team USA player Kobe Bryant in pre-Olympic game (US Air Force public domain photo.)

I also watched the women’s handball Montenegro team playing against Russia. Montenegro, slightly smaller than Connecticut, has a population of 620,029 which is less than the city of Detroit, Michigan (713,777.) Russia has a population of 143,056,383. Thinking about this it seems to me that large and rich countries have an advantage as there is more money available and a larger pool of talent to choose from. The city of Los Angeles alone has more people – 4,065,585 than many of these other countries. What if Team USA members could only be chosen from the city of Los Angeles rather than from the whole USA? Below is Tower Bridge in London with the Olympic Rings (source: Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike.)

On another blog this week I saw a commenter who wrote that he wished US and China wouldn’t win so many medals. Another commenter replied that he was wrong – that US athletes trained very hard and had the same chances. I still think that larger and richer countries have an advantage. For example I was raised in France –I liked swimming, ice skating and horseback riding. I could only practice if I went on my own - no coach, no trainer. In college it was the same thing – there certainly was not a football or basketball field at La Sorbonne in Paris then – and I doubt that there are some now. But my husband was able to be on the rowing team at his college in Marietta, Ohio – he did not have to go and join an expensive club. Photo below – Rowing at the Summer Olympics (image source: Creative Commons Flickr user Steve Elliott.)

In the USA sports are a priority. Children can start early, then in high school sports are part of the school program. There are summer sport camps. Sport scholarships can be obtained to attend colleges and universities. In addition there are more sports clubs at the community level in a variety of sports to pick up promising young athletes. Then when professional athletes are chosen for Team USA, for example, it is easier to choose from a country of 313,382,000 (USA) than Tunisia (10,673,800) which played against them 10 days ago. This is not taking away from what the US athletes accomplished but it has to be acknowledged that sports are well funded here and other rich countries. Many poor countries don’t even have one Olympic size swimming pool and their athletes cannot afford a racing bicycle. "USA Swimming” a 300,000 member organization promotes swimming from the youngest ages. Look at their site here. Population is not as important, I believe, as a country’s wealth, because I don’t think Bangladesh with a population of 161,000,000 even entered the Olympics. Photo below is the 1896 Olympics Gold Medal (Public domain.)

While I was looking at the statistics of various countries I found a site showing the “Medals per Capita.” Their motto is “Olympic glory in proportion.” They also have calculated Olympic medals by each country’s gross domestic product. I thought it was quite interesting. New Zealand won 13 medals or 1 medal per 340,970 residents- so their rank is 4th. America with 114 medals comes in 40th place with one medal per 3.4 million residents. Here is the site: Medals per Capita. – I found it fascinating – it certainly gives a new perspective, but many may find it boring - or won’t care. Here are some shots of the closing ceremonies from my TV screen.

We watched the Closing Ceremonies last night. I enjoyed the “Imagine” performance with the pictures of John Lennon. London and all the participating countries should be proud of these Olympic Games – they were a success.


French Girl in Seattle said...

Wonderful post, Vagabonde, well researched, and well documented, as always. I tend to agree with your analysis re: sport funding. I was happy France did so well this year. The new talent in the French swim team will be winning more competitions in the future, I predict. Just watched the French news on TV5 tonight and absolutely LOVED seeing the warm welcome the French extended to "Les Bleus" when they returned home on the Eurostar. So many young children will be inspired to follow in these athletes' footsteps. Hope the funding is there to enable them to do so! Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

OldLady Of The Hills said...

Good Post, my dear....The "win" that I found so inspiring was KIRANI JAMES, Track & Field, from Grenada...Population, appr. 100,000
The city of Hollywood, where I live, has twice that many people!! He won the very first Gold Medal for his country, EVER! In fact the very first Medal for Grenada of any color. Think what that will do for his country.
Also, those fantastic Sprinter/Runners from Jamaica, Pop. approx. 2,500,000!! These are the inspiring stories to me because of the sacrifices made to even get to the level of excellence that it takes to be in The Olympics. And you are right. We have so much money to support all the sports programs.

I really got P.O. at NBC for a lot of things---and particularly their editing of the Opening Ceremonies. How. Dare. They.
And the commercials....ENDLESS!!!!
Still, the 'games' themselves were exciting---at least the ones I watched. And I thought London and the U.K. did a magnificent job!

snowwhite said...

Hi Vagabonde,
In Japan, many Olympic Games were broadcasted late at nigh, most of the finals. We stayed late at night in front of TV and next morning we were sleepyheads.
I especially cheered up female soccer.

All of the games were so wonderful.
Many splendid scenes are vivid in my mind.

I cannot find more suitable song fit in the closing ceremony than "Imagine".

snowwhite said...

Add this, sorry.

female soccer → female soccer team "Nadeshiko Japan".

bayou said...

How true your point of view is, dear Vagabonde. I agree with all what you mention and am impressed with the quality of pictures taken from your TV screen. Luckily, Sir Paul did not have a second appearance in the closing ceremony ;-). I also find the performance of the Netherlands quite impressive, there is so much we could learn from our neighbours. And same as for you for the Tour, a déjà-vu was for me the tennis final Murray-Federer. It was a great success for London, indeed. Mr. Romney was wrong.

Jenny Woolf said...

I was driving under those olympic rings a couple of days ago, crossing Tower Bridge! Quite impressive...

This is Belgium said...

very interesting for several reasons
nice that you show Vini dans sa gloire !
very impressive how your TV pictures turned out.
here in Belgium, there is, especially compared to the US, so little emphasis on sports in the school curriculum..same as the story you are describing in your school days in France.
and then finally I also applaud that you point out that the media cater to their own audience
une belle journée quand-même!

DJan said...

I too feel that the rich countries always are the ones who take home the medals for all the reasons you list here. We value our athletes for their prowess and don't seem to care much about whether they are good people or not. I too was shocked by NBC's USA-centric coverage of the Olympics. I am always glad to see a post by you, VB. I hope you are doing well.

Frances said...

Vagabonde, it was a pleasure to read this post. I so agree with you about the NBC editing...we in the States were denied Ray Davies performing Waterloo Sunset on Sunday evening. I guess that provided more minutes for Stomp or the Spice Girls?

I have to admit that I didn't actually see much of the actual athletic events. All the score keeping and medal reporting really put me off.

When I grew up, local school sport emphasis was definitely for the boys. Maybe it is different in Virginia now.


GaynorB said...

Bonjour Vagabonde,

I thoroughly enjoyed this post. We are in France at the moment but get UK TV via satellite. The BBC have excellent (if a little biased) commentary without adverts.

I agree that NBC were insensitive to leave out the 7/7 tribute.

As Brits we were thrilled with our haul of 29 Gold medals, especially as in Atlanta 1996 we only won 1 Gold.

I'm really hoping that there will be a lasting legacy. The games motto was 'to inspire a generation'. I'd much prefer my money goes towards supporting sport in schools than be used to bail out profligate bankers!

Gail Dixon said...

I didn't watch much of the Olympics, but I had heard that NBC did a dismal job of televising it. That's a shame. So much emphasis is on $$$$ here.

Fennie said...

Oh dear! I wrote a long comment which disappeared: I wasn't signed in.
No matter - it was something that said the Olympics were good for us Brits and there was something else showing that your republican vice presidential candidate attracts my ire for running down our NHS on the grounds that it undermines democracy. Hallo? I'd rather be well thank you and our democracy is quite adequate, I think. We may not be No 1 in the world (and who cares?) but we can put on a good Olympics!

Down by the sea said...

It's so interesting to hear how other countries have viewed the games. As the Olympics were on the BBC we didn't have the commercial breaks.That must have been very frustrating.
It was fascinating seeing the table by head of population.There is a debate going on over here on how they can create more opportunities for sport in the public schools. Most of our winners had a private (paid for)education.
Sarah x

Jeanie said...

I loved watching the Olympics, too, and was pleased Vino won. I remember when he failed his drug test after a miraculously hard Tour race several years ago and had to be out of competition for awhile. Some would have just let themselves go but he triumphed. One of the gymnasts (female) was from our town, which was exciting, even though she had pretty bad luck in some of the competition. I wasn't knocked out by NBC's coverage, but it beat bad reruns and reality shows! Nice post!

Pauline said...

Because the world clock was unfriendly to my time zone I ended up listening to most of the Games on the radio during the night, as I lay in bed. One particular session I enjoyed was when the commentators had a statistician with them and in the 'down time' they tried to come up with alternative ways to work out which nation performed the best - per capita, per GDP, area, etc. Of course, the aim was to find a way to put NZ on the top of the list - very entertaining. The Medals per Capita you refer to was the closest they could get.

I have to admit to being rather horrified that the NBC were edited (censored?) for the US audience. That seems quite wrong to me!

Elaine said...

Funny that you thought you were watching a Tour de France rerun and interesting that the Olympic bike race started so soon after the Tour. We never tried to watch any of the Olympic events live, and our time zone would have made that more difficult. I recorded the evening coverage and whatever else we wanted to watch and then fast forwarded through the commercials. Amazing how much quicker you can get though a program that way.

It is so true that the richer countries have an advantage in the Olympics because of better facilities and more availability. I guess I don't see a problem with the professional athletes playing. Think about how China trains their athletes, and the same in the past with the USSR. Even with the advantages in the US, the athletes and their families must make great sacrifices to dedicate themselves to their sport. We noticed how many athletes from a variety of countries came to the US to train, and many coaches working here are from other countries. I was always excited to see medals awarded to athletes from smaller countries and delegations and to see the absolute joy they felt at their achievement.

The best part of the Olympics is not what each individual country does, though, but the fact that so many people from all over the world come together in peace for that short time and many friendships are created. If only it would carry over now that everyone has gone back home.....

Thérèse said...

I like the idea of "medal per capita" and would have thought that Jamaica would be first...

Mary said...

I'm so proud of my country Great Britain winning so many gold medals this time around.....and disappointed with much of the NBC coverage we received here in the US. However, most important, the Games were a huge success, nothing devastating happened, athletes came together in the true spirit of the original Greek Olympiad, and Britain really showed her greatness in pulling off such an amazing feat for a little country.

Brazil, I wish you have a lot of work ahead!

Great post dear - you are the best when it comes to enlightening us, no matter the subject of your always wonderful posts - thank you.

Happy day - Mary X

Pat said...

How great that Vino overcame his bad fortune and was a championin the end.
I have loved watching all the different nations in the Olympics and it has been a joy to watch some of them - regardless of which nation they belong to.

PeterParis said...

Four years ago, we had family holidays in Italy during the two weeks of the Games and we managed to do the same thing - again in Italy - this year... and we had other things to do than watch TV. I just had the time to see the opening ceremony just before leaving and the closing one the night of my return. Fantastic as such ... and no commercial breaks! :-)

Amanda said...

I only saw glimpses of the Olympics at work, few times at home. So many people complained about the coverage, but then again, during every Olympics is the same since NBC doesn't seem to learn from its mistakes. Bravo to the athletes who worked so hard, for so many years! And bravo for a wonderful post?

Arti said...

Thank you for your insights. I totally agree with you that there are huge disparities among countries. You've pointed out populations and money spent on sports, facilities, training etc. I think you're absolutely right. Definitely the countries are not on equal playing fields. Kudos to those that keep on sending athletes who have no chance of winning a medal. That's the Olympics spirit, not in winning but in participating and sportsmanship. As for the US basketball team, now, I don't quite understand how they dropped the 'amateur' criterion and allow multi-millionaire sport stars to play in the Olympics. You know, I grew up watching the Olympics and cheering for it, but after this year, for some reasons, I'm beginning to feel quite disappointed and disillusioned.

Kay said...

We really enjoyed the Olympic Games and are going through a sort of withdrawal right now. I was sorry to miss most of the Closing Ceremonies but we were at a dinner party.

CrazyCris said...

Great post Vagabonde! I was chatting with a friend the other day about the dominance of the US and China in the medals... figured there's not much to be done about those countries with such large populations and the ability to pour loads of money into medal-winning sports programmes!
My friend asked my why baseball wasn't an Olympic sport, and I was like "why? so they could just give the gold to the US every year like in basketball?" With the US being the only country with a large national basketball and baseball tournament it's no surprise they've got the best players! Even half the Spanish basketball players are in the NBA! Football is a bit more "égalitaire" because it's a dominant sport in many more countries around the world.

In Spain we got loads of live coverage, withOUT commercials! :o) I saw way more than was good for me, felt like I was suffering from "Olympic hangover" on Monday morning! :p

Anyone else think the next 4 years are going to be pretty exciting times in Brazil (for sports)? World Cup in 2 years, and then the Olympics in Rio 2 years later! :o)

Dee said...

Dear Vagabonde, once again you've caused me to pause, remember, consider, and wish that I were a well-informed observer of human kind. The reason I say that is because your short essay on the Olympics prompts me to read something on WHY sports is so important to our country. WHY do we put money into sports in high school and cut out--because of the budget don't you know!--arts and other classes, like languages, that would make such a difference in the lives of many students?

Moreover, the NBC coverage reveals our chauvinism and the fact that big business (witness the many commercials) is what runs our country.

Well, the thing is that I read your article and once again, just as I felt in the parade of the athletes at the Opening Ceremony, I feel that other countries have a sense of wonder and delight that eludes us. We are so caught up in winning and national pride that we forget other equally important values. Or so it seems to me.

Thank you for evoking these thoughts, Vagabonde. You always make me think. Thank you for that too. Peace.

Unknown said...

Well, the news has broke that "they" finally got Lance Armstrong. Despite the fact that I cannot stand the man, methinks "they" were unfairly out to get him.

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