Wednesday, August 10, 2016

USA! USA! USA! (a.k.a. how we are dominating the 2016 Olympics)

As of this writing, the US leads the medal count at 27, including 10 gold, 8 silver, and 9 bronze, thanks in no small part to Michael Phelps, who has already given us 3 gold.  Our closest rival (China) is in distant second place with only 17 medals.

How do we continue to dominate the Olympics?  Well, a couple of reasons, but really it is all about the Benjamins (Tubmans?).  US corporations pour money into this stuff, resulting in better training facilities for our athletes, better coaches, and superior medicine (witness the trending conversation regarding those odd purple marks on Michael Phelps' back, which are a result of cupping - a treatment to help get the blood flowing again after swimming).

And this corporate money isn't lavished altruistically either - don't forget that US corporations later hire the same Olympians they sponsored as spokespeople to push more product, so I would argue they are certainly recouping their investment, and then some.

But wait, you might say - surely it is because we send more athletes too, right?  Well, while it is true we DO send more athletes, we still have an advantage, even when you control for the numbers; we still win WAY more medals per athlete than almost any other country.

And thank God the Cold War ended (or thank aliens if that be your bent, or Ronald Reagan for that matter), because in their three-decade plus existence, the USSR pulled in an astonishing 71 medals per games, compared to our 53.  Also thank God (or aliens, or Ron) that East and West Germany are friends now, because East Germany used to kick our ass a little too.  Now we are back on top!

Ridiculous, you may be thinking.  Maybe we just have better athletes, did you ever think of that?  It is entirely possible - we are a nation of immigrants, so there is a lot of diverse DNA here, for lack of a better term.  And like they say with mutts, the good qualities tend to reinforce each other and make the mixed breed dogs more hardy.  But the data says it is all about GDP (read money) and not population size either - meaning we in the US are NOT more likely to have better athletes to choose from simply because we have more people, because most countries' populations are sufficiently large to negate this.

So it is definitely all about the money (but also Ronald Reagan). Go, team!

P.S.  I will leave you with a fun fact - since the beginning of time, the US averages ~180 athletes per Olympics (nowadays it is more like 500), compared to ~173 per contest for the USSR.  That is almost twice as many as Germany, the next closest country, although one should point out this is a little biased, because during the Cold War years each half sent almost as many as the US or USSR alone, thanks to our and their coercion, er, patronage.   

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