In 2008, China won more gold medals than the US in the Olympics. No one had beaten the US in medals since 1992, when a “unified team” of former Soviet states won more. In 1988 the actual Soviet Union won outright, with East Germany also beating the US. So the Americans have only ever lost to Communists, at least lately.
The Economist created a chart of the most successful medal winners in terms of athlete yield. That’s a fancy way to saying how many athletes it took to win a medal. A country like Luxembourg requires 219 athletes in order to win a single medal. Pakistan needs 46. Brazil needs 25. Great Britain needs just 9. China has been working at a 6:1 ration. But the US wins a medal for every 4 athletes. The only two countries with better yield don’t exist anymore, USSR and East Germany. What we have then are Communist countries, and countries that used to be Communist, being the only ones typically capable of beating the US in a couple of different measurements of Olympic success: outright medals and medal yield.
What are they trying to prove?
Anyone that’s watched Rocky IV knows the Communists are out to prove they’re better than the Capitalists, or more generically, Americans. In the movie, Rocky takes on a Soviet boxer that has been training with all the latest technology and equipment. Rocky wins with good ole American spirit. But given the movie’s 80s setting, it appropriately represents the sentiment of both countries at the time.
The space race was the perfect example. The Cold War was just about one-upmanship. Nobody wanted to go to war, we were all out to prove how strong our systems were. The race to space and the moon symbolically represented this competition. The USSR was out to prove they were just as smart and rich as the US. They won the race to space, but we won the moon and our economic system has endured since while there’s collapsed. Ironically, we now rely on Russia to put our astronauts into space.
The Olympic medals are just another example of this competition. Today the contest is with China, which is out to prove to the world they are legitimate power. But arguably, they’re just trying to prove it to themselves. In a survey of Americans asking what the leading economic power in the world is, 40% said the US and 41% said China. Ask the same question in China, and they’ll say the US 48% of the time and their own country only 29%. We all know the Olympics are about national pride, and if the survey is representative China has a ways to go in national pride.
Communism has been trying to prove itself for 100 years. It didn’t work for the USSR, and China knows that. They’ve adjusted their economy to be more accommodating to a capitalist system. But there’s still a lot of centralized control, and they have yet to beat the idea that Americans are on top. So far they’ve only been able to prove that when a government throws a bunch of money at athletes to train them full time enough can get good enough to beat Americans. But the US is funded by donations alone, further proving how great this country is.
I realize this post is bursting with a bit of national pride, but every 4 years or so, you can’t help but bleed a little blue and white along with the red.