2012 London Olympics ends well for Aussies
So another Olympics has been cast for posterity, and back here in Australia the post-mortems are beginning in full swing.
Like most fans, I was initially disappointed with the performance of our team, especially the swimming team, and especially during the first week, which ended with just one gold medal.
But as things picked up in the second week, and after some reflection and research, I realise now our performance wasn’t that bad.
Like many fans, I was predicting an overall medal haul around the 40 mark, with gold medals anywhere from 10 to 15, hopefully at the upper mark.
Australians are still basking in the after-glow of the Sydney Olympics, and the success of 2000 carried momentum forward into Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008. But sooner or later we were going to cop a reality check.
Let me tell you that Beijing 2008 was a reality check delayed.
You see, we won 46 medals, which was only three shy of the 49 we won in Athens and an acceptable 12 shy of the 58 haul in Sydney.
Our swimmers saved us then. They won 20 medals in the pool, our historical best-ever effort, and also 43% of all our medals. What the swimmers ‘hid’ from the public back in 2008, was that some of our sports were already slipping back to pre-Sydney obscurity.
The swimmers won 20 medals, and all the other sports 26. Now fast forward to London 2012. Our swimmers managed just 10 medals and all the other sports 25.
Before I continue with Australia, let me throw some medal tallies at you. I have looked at the cumulative medal counts of the past six Olympics, since Barcelona 1992.
Barcelona is a significant starting point, because the world changed significantly in the four years between Seoul 1988 and Barcelona 1992. Much of the world today evolved from events in that time period. Here’s some of them:
1. The former Soviet Union empire collapsed, with it’s member states going their separate ways. Many other former Soviet-bloc states shrugged off communism.
2. The Berlin wall collapsed, leading to the reunification of West Germany and East Germany.
3. The Tiananmen Square incident of 1989 humiliated the Chinese leadership and led to a softening of their then strict socialism.
4. In South Africa, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, to begin a chain reaction which would se the dismantling of apartheid in that country.
Barcelona reflected a world that looked forward hopefully to a better future. It was a ‘happy’ games. And over the past six Olympics, much has remained fairly regular.
Australia ranks fifth in overall medals won in that time, sixth in gold medals, having being passed by Great Britain in London. Here are the figures for the top ten nations:
1. USA – 620 medals, 236 gold.
2. Russia (including Unified Team 1992) – 511/178.
3. China – 413/181.
4. Germany – 335/104.
5. Australia – 255/71.
6. France – 212/65.
7. Great Britain – 206/74.
8. Italy – 175/58.
9. South Korea – 165/62.
10. Japan – 152/43.
Australia has the smallest population of these nations, so we have done exceptionally well. Now if we get an average of the number of medals per sport over these past six games, then looking forward to Rio 2016, this is what we might expect to end up with.
RIO 2016 – Swimming (14 medals), Track/Road Cycling (6 or 7), Rowing (4), Athletics (3), Canoeing (3), Sailing (2), Diving (2), Shooting (one or 2), Equestrian (one), Field Hockey (one), Basketball (one), Water Polo (one), and perhaps one other sport (one).
That’s 40-42 medals overall, which would be exceptional. As for the breakdown of gold, silver, bronze, it might be in the region of 11-14 gold, 13-16 silver, and 13-16 bronze.
The reality is this – the Olympics is getting harder. And you realise this when you breakdown the various sports into their components, and see the competition available.
Athletics might have 47 gold medals up for grabs, and swimming has 32, but rowing and track/road cycling have 14 each, and sailing 11. The competition is intense!
If Australia can continue to reach 35-40 medals at each of the next four to five Olympics, we will be doing outstandingly well. And if we can achieve anywhere from 10-15 gold medals at each, that will also be outstanding.
But make no mistake, winning at the Olympics has just got a lot harder. That’s the reality.
I used to think I was a pretty good rugby lock, but now realise I was deluded. My nickname is a truncation of my surname, so I'm not Arabic - phew! However, sometimes I imagine myself as a Beau Geste in the French Foreign Legion, fighting evil, righting wrongs, promoting good and rescuing damsels in distress.