Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Olympic Power

Could Olympic medals be an accurate surrogate of world power over time? I’m thinking, in particular, of early successes from traditional powers like France and Britain. I also know the Germans put on a good show when the Nazis came to power. Finally, there’s the arch-rivalry between the US and Soviet Union after WWII, as well as the recent rise of China.

I mean, it makes sense, doesn’t it? A powerful nation should be able to draw on its resources of people and money and expertise. And Olympic medals would also seem to be something that any nation that’s striving for world leadership would see as an easy way to quantify where they stand with their rivals.

So, let’ see if it’s true …

  • I focused on what country won the most medals.
  • To make sure that representation wasn’t too narrow, I included the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners. To give credit where credit was due, though, I awarded 3 points for 1st, 2 for 2nd, and 1 for 3rd. Kind of like gold, silver, and bronze.
  • I limited this to the summer Olympics. The winter Olympics are just too particular (to countries where it is cold some of the time), but any nation can run, and jump, and swim, right?
  • I eliminated any countries that only totaled 3 or more points. I figured you could get that with just one good showing (which is, indeed, what Greece did in 1896).
  • I combined East and West Germany.


So, here’s what I came up with:


A couple of notes:
  • The US has been the dominant nation since the start, reflecting the 20th Century’s common title as the “American Century.”
  • In the early years, The US’s main rivals were the traditional powers of Europe – in particular, France and Britain (and Sweden?).
  • Europe – having managed to destroy itself in WWI – pretty much stagnated after that.
  • The one possible exception here, though, is Germany, which first rose to prominence with the Nazis, then again after WWII, and is now the dominant player in Europe.
  • After WWII, Germany was joined by the Soviet Union, reflecting the arch-rivalry between the US and the Evil Empire. Interestingly, that rivalry seems to have never really gone away. 
  • Recent developments show Germany joining the other European powers in going stagnant.
  • Its place seems to have been taken by China, reflecting its recent growth since turning away from Communism.

So, how will the 2016 Olympics play out? Will China continue its run? Will Russia, with its drug scandals, give up a place to someone else? Will that someone else be Germany? Who else might step in?