On Watching the Olympics

The opening ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympics was held on Friday, June 27th across the pond in London. I, along with billions of people from around the world, witnessed a bizarre spectacle of British history (mostly all happy stuff, no Spanish Armada destroying the British fleet, or the British invading India). It ranged from coal miners emerging from a cave(?) and then moved on to Mary Poppins and a parody of James Bond. The ending, I thought was quite spectacular, considering that London seemed to embrace the dubstep/grime culture that’s been so central to their youth. The social media thing was clever in a way that did not alienate the majority of viewers—except for men and women hailing from certain countries that limit freedom.

Since the opening ceremony, I (like many others) have been keeping an eye on medal counts, and I felt that there was something a bit amiss between the initial celebrations and the celebrations on the podium.

I took a look at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the current medal standings at London. The New York Times actually has a pretty cool interactive map of the medal winners from previous Olympics that, interestingly, lists the countries by number of medals won, not by the number of gold medals won (which would have put China in first place, not the United States).

Here are the current top 10 medal-winning countries from the 2012 Summer Olympics in London:

Here are the top 10 medal-winning countries from the 2008 Summer Olympics:

…and the 2008 interactive map provided by the New York Times:

Do you see a difference? There are obviously countries that consistently dominate in the Olympics. Although it’s still very early in the Olympics 2012, by an extrapolation of data from previous Olympics, it’s pretty clear which nations will be  in the top 10 at the end of the Olympic games.

Here are the top 10 countries from the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens:

…and the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney:

Interesting, isn’t it?

How about one more, from the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta:

Time and time again, you see the same countries place in the top 10. Obviously, the United States hasn’t placed lower than No. 2, and I guarantee that this summer, the US will place first or second (probably second) with China.

But, this isn’t a medals race, no way. The media might focus on the medal count—I mean, we’re all suckers for high numbers—but really, this is a celebration of the achievements these athletes have accomplished.

This is a celebration of the world.

The Olympic Committee has a commission called “The Commission for Culture and Olympic Education” for support and promotion of health, peace, and a better world through cultural exchanges and recognizing cultural diversity.

The Olympic games moved from a competition to an exhibition, successfully incorporating the elements of the arts into the mix. It embraced the presentation of culture through the subjective, the incorporeal attitudes of certain cultures depicted only though the means of sculptures or paintings.

In its very essence, with countries showcasing their best athletes, the participants of the Olympic games are not only competing against one another, they’ve become participants of a global museum; that is, the best athletes are watched and scrutinized and admired, not just as men and women with incredible athleticism, but as part of the cultural exhibit put on show for the world. The athletes become, basically works of art, rather, “sculpture-esque,” and are canonized into the halls of the Olympians.

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