Olympics 2012: Medal parity grows at the Olympics

By MIKE RABUN, United Press International  |  July 13, 2012 at 3:10 PM
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Winning an Olympic medal creates much attention in the homeland of the recipient and in the last generation that attention has been widely dispersed.

Moldova and Mauritius, for instance, both won the first Olympic medal in their respective histories four years ago in Beijing.

Coincidentally, the medals both came in the bantamweight boxing class when competitors from those two nations received a bronze after losing in the semifinals.

A record 86 countries picked up at least one medal at the 2008 Games. Togo won a bronze, Vietnam and Singapore each grabbed a silver and Kyrgyzstan captured both a silver and bronze.

Jamaica with its sprinters and Ethiopia with its long-distance runners combined to collect an astonishing 10 gold medals and 18 overall.

During the London Olympics 959 medals are scheduled to be awarded, including two bronze ones in each of the boxing, judo, taekwondo and wrestling weight classes.

One of the story lines throughout the upcoming games, in fact, will be whether the developing global athletic parity will continue to grow or whether the big boys at the top of the Olympic food chain will do the bulk of the winning.

And, in particular, what will the Chinese and Americans do?

The U.S. contingent has been consistent in its medal winnings in the past five Olympics, claiming 108 medals in Barcelona, 101 in Atlanta, 95 in Sydney, 102 in Athens and 110 in Beijing.

Elsewhere, however, there has been a dramatic shift in the balance of athletic power.

At the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, the Soviet Union took part as a group for the final time and Germany competed as a unified country for the first time since before World War II.

In those Games, the Soviets, the Germans and the Americans combined to win 37 percent of all the medals awarded.

Things are much different now. Germany's medal total has steadily dropped from 82 in 1992 to 41 in 2008. Russia is still formidable, but cannot put together the totals the Soviet Union did. The Soviets won 92 medals in 1992; the Russians collected 73 four years ago.

And the Chinese?

Given governmental impetus because it was hosting the Olympics, China won 51 gold medals in Beijing -- the most since the Soviets claimed 55 at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and the second-highest total in a non-boycotted Games.

Even so, the Americans still won more overall medals (110 to 100) than did the Chinese. The top three medal-winning nations -- the United States, China and Russia -- captured just 29 percent of the awards compared with the 37 percent won by the top three 16 years earlier.

The question is whether China can continue the surge it put forth in Beijing, winning 19 more gold medals and 37 more overall than it did in Athens.

Chinese athletes were in evidence almost everywhere. They won all but one of the diving gold medals, captured nine of the 14 first prizes in artistic gymnastics, won three of four golds in judo, claimed five of the 15 shooting gold medals, all four in table tennis and eight of the nine handed out in weightlifting.

They won medals in beach volleyball, track cycling, fencing, rowing, sailing, synchronized swimming, trampoline, wrestling and even tennis.

Only in the team sports did they struggle to be a factor.

There is plenty of room for Chinese improvement in track and field where they won only two of the 141 available medals four years ago.

But if the Chinese slip a little, there will be more for everybody else and that would be in keeping with the recent trend.

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