Let’s look at this sport by sport:
Archery: South Korea won five overall medals (in four events), and was the only nation to win more than one gold medal. Nothing this year for the U.S.
Badminton: China netted 8 medals of the total (in five events), and their three golds made it the only nation with multiple golds. Nothing for the U.S.
Baseball: South Korea was a mild surprise over Cuba and Japan, but the Koreans claim what will certainly be the final gold medal in the Olympics. I think the U.S. bronze was good …. finishing ahead of Japan after losing to them earlier in the tournament. Topping Cuba is never an easy proposition in baseball. South Korea’s win may have been unexpected, but they certainly outplayed everyone, and deserved to strike gold.
Basketball: USA! USA! USA! No doubts here, the men redeemed themselves and the women came through like an express train. Mission accomplished!
Beach Volleyball: USA saw a parallel of basketball: the men won a close, yet convincing finale, while the women pummeled their opponents into utter submission before going to work on them. Despite tough Brazilian opposition, the U.S. swept the two golds.
Boxing: Cuba led the way with four medals (in 11 weight classes). They won no gold, but no other nation picked up more than one. It was a disaster for the U.S: their worst showing since 1948: only one bronze. This sport is almost certain to expand as the women should be able to compete in London, 2012.
Canoe/Kayak: Germany took 8 medals (in 16 events), and tied for the gold lead with Slovakia with three. The U.S. took nothing. Though not followed in the U.S, one of the memorable pictures of the games is bound to be Spanish silver medlaist, David Cal, butt turrned to the audience, and vomiting on the medal stand while gold medalist Maxim Opalev laughs a hearty Russian laugh. A feel good story was Togo claiming a bronze medal for its first ever Olympic medal (even though the medalist had only once ever visited there).
Cycling: Great Britain p’owned the world taking 14 medals (in 18 races), and 8 golds, with no other nation taking more than 2. The U.S. took five, good for the third largest medal haul, with three coming in the new BMX discipline. Bet your bottom shilling that tickets to cycling events in 2012 will be tough to come by.
Diving: China came one gold away from a clean sweep, taking seven of the possible 8 golds, and 11 medals overall (in only 8 events). Remember when the U.S. used to lead the way? The U.S. got completely shut out for the second consecutive Olympics. Unlike boxing, hopes were not teribly high with a dominant Chinese team jumping into the home pool, though the hopes for 2012 are significantly higher.
Equestrian German horses (and their riders) claimed five total medals (in 6 events), and with three golds was the only nation to claim more than one. The United States did better than usual, claiming one of each for the second highest medal haul, besting the usually better teams from northern Europe.
Fencing: Italy parried their way to seven medals (in 10 events), and tied with France and Germany with two golds. The U.S. only had one gold, but claimed six medals for the second largest haul in the sport, one of the United States’ best showings in decades!
Field Hockey: Germany claimed gold for the men, and no one had more than one medal between the mens and womens competitions that was missing India and Pakistan. I give Germany the edge over the Dutch (who won the womens gold) because the German women finished fourth. The U.S. women finished 8th which is better than the mens team that did not qualify for the games.
Football: Brazil’s consolation is that they were the only dual medlaist, though the nation that has done eveything there is in soccer, and eats, sleeps, and breathes soccer, STILL has never won gold in the Olympics, taking silver in the women’s tournament (losing to the U.S, a nation that doesn’t even call the sport by its rightful name), and bronze after dropping a tough semi to their neighbors from Argentina. The U.S. ladies won their gold after being upset by Norway in their first match. The men … well … you know … America … soccer….
Gymnastics: China definitely led the way, with the men assuring the dominance. 18 total medals (there were 18 events) and a whopping 11 gold. The U.S. vaulted to ten medals for second place, and tied with Russia with two for second place in the gold vault. The American women came out pretty good with a couple of 1-2 finishes, and the men, missing key players, performed better than expected Remember when Romania and Russia used to own this event: one gold and one bronze for Romania, and two gold and two bronze for Russia.
Handball: France (men) and Norway (women) scored golds. Maybe a slight edge to France given that the women made the medal round. South Korea also got both teams to the medal round, with the ladies netting the bronze.
Judo: Japan chopped its way to seven medals (there were 14 events), and led the way with four golds. The U.S, never a power in this sport, managed a bronze to avoid being shut out.
Modern Pentahlon: Lithuania won the silver and bronze on the mens side, and no one else had more than one, though we will shout out to Germany (womens) and Russia (mens) for taking the gold.
Rowing: Great Britain took six medals (14 events), and tied with Austraila for two golds. The U.S. tied with Aussies and the Kiwis with three medals, claiming one of each. More than respectable in a sport that saw 20 nations claim a medal.
Sailing: Great Britain claimed 6 medals (in 11 races) and claimed four golds in the one sport that did not have anything nice to say about China (between winds breaking masts, races cancelled due to lack of wind, and a nice layer of green muck covering the bay). The U.S. claimed two medals (gold and silver) in a sport that was wide open this year: 18 nations medaled in 11 races!
Shooting: China claimed 8 medals (in 15 events) and five golds. The U.S. was second with six medals (two of each), with the Czech Republic and Ukraine also taking a pair of golds. Nineteen nations medaled, notably India which claimed its first ever individual medal in the Olympics.
Softball: Japan took the shocking gold medal in what will be the last softball tournament for a while (it has a much better chance of making a comeback than baseball). This was most definitely one of the “shocks” of the games as the U.S. women did their impression of “taekwando in jackboots” to the rest of the field …. even beating Japan twice to run their winning streak to 22!! Japan’s pitcher Yukiko Ueno had pitched 21 innings the day before in what was sure to be a laugher. Even the Japanese weren’t laughing at this result that must have had even some die hard America haters tearing up a bit.
Swimming: I’ll take a gamble: USA! If Michael Phelps were a nation, he would have finished third in the medals, and FIRST in golds! The United States panned for 31 medals (out of 33 events), twelve of which were gold. The Aussies picked up 20 medals, six of which were gold. No one else had more than six medals and/or 2 golds. Did NBC overhype Michael Phelps? Yes, however, think of this: how many times does an athlete (or anyone) get attached to the chance of pulling off something really, really big, and then come through.
Synchronized Swimming: Russia took both of the golds. Spain took both silvers. The United States did not place. The world goes on.
Table Tennis: China salivated for this moment for oh so long. They won 8 of the twelve medals, and all four golds. This further included sweeps of the mens and womens singles events. Only the team events (they could only enter one team) stopped them from winning every medal in the sport. The U.S. got a woman to the quarterfinals for the best American finish ever.
Tennis: Russia picked up one of each to lead the world, while Spain picked up a gold and silver. The U.S. picked up the bronze in mens doubles (compliments of the Bryan Brothers), while the Sisters Williams struck gold in womens doubles.
Taekwando: South Korea picked up four golds (in eight events; four per gender), and led with those four medals. The brothers and sister Lopez won all three U.S. medals, second in the medal count, though Mexico’s two golds was the second largest gold haul. Steven Lopez’ match ended in a protest, though that was nothing compared to Angel Matos of Cuba, whose kick to the face of the Swedish referee after being disqualified will be the saddest picture of the games. Afghanistan’s bronze, the first ever for the nation, was among the feel-good stories.
Track & Field: The USA led all nations with 23 medals, and seven golds. Russia had 18 medals, and with Jamaica had six gold medals …. yet somehow the media claimed this was an utter disaster for the U.S. On the one hand, U.S. sprinting got shut down by Jamaica, and had a pair of gaffes in the 4×100 m relay! The real stories were with the Jamaican sprinters and Ethiopian distance runners (who pulled in four golds and seven medals). Kenya was third in the medal haul with 14 medals, five of which were gold, including their first ever gold in the marathon. Despite a couple of sweeps, a historic gold in the womens discus, an all but forgotten gold in the decathlon (how did this not get played up in the media!!!???) and the rest, this will not be an overall memorable win for the US, as the main stories were in the Carribean and East Africa! On the other hand, given the U.S. predilection for doing well in the sprints, and the fact that they did not really produce, it shows something of America’s dominance in this sort that they still led the medal haul. No matter what the media says, the U.S. did OK, even if the high profile athletes that the media embraced in the easy-to-televise sprints didn’t come through.
Triathlon: Australia took gold and bronze in the womens triathlon; the only multimedal nation. The U.S. finished quite respectably: Hunter Kemper was seventh, Sarah Haskins was eleventh, and despite being the first out of the water, Laura Bennett fell back, and finished fourth.
Volleyball: Brazil and the United States each claimed gold and silver over each other. I give a slight edge to the United States. The U.S. women won the only set of the games from Brazil, while the men had to overcome a huge emotional roller coaster, and had to defeat the top four teams in the world to win. Think about it: in four gold medal matches in indoor and beach volleyball, ALL of them came down to a U.S. vs. Brazil matchup … and the U.S. took three! Successful Olympics for USA Volleyball? You bet!
Water Polo: The United States??? Yep … the only nation to grab two medals. Swimming caps off to the U.S. who had to fight through tough competition to get the two silvers. Kudos to the Hungarian men and Dutch women for taking gold.
Weightlifting: China dominated with nine medals, eight of which were gold (in 15 divisions). The competition was marred by the exclusion of Bulgaria and Greece. Russia took seven medals, four silver and three bronze.
Wrestling: Russia finally could look to something that turned out as planned: 11 medals (in 18 weight classes) and six gold dominated the competition. Japan and Georgia were the only other nations with two golds, with Japan’s six medals following Russia. The U.S. scored three medals, including one gold. While far from bad, it was not up to expectations as weight and fitness were an issue. The first major incident of the games were when Swedish wrestler Ara Abrahamian, upset over getting screwed in the semi final, received his bronze medal, shook hte hand of hte gold medalist, stepped off the podium, and dropped his medal in the middle of the mat before walking away. He was ejected from the games, though the court of arbitration in sport later admitted that he had been screwed; the consequences could not be undone.
Overall, hats off to China ….. since 1996, when China won 50 medals, they have doubled that number in the space of 12 years (three olympiads). While the U.S. had ten more overall medals, the 15 more golds by China I find to be an overall greater accomplishment. Kudos to the hosts for giving the home crowd a lot to shout about.
Aside from the Chinese gold rush, there were other points of interest: More nations than ever took part in the medal haul; with 88 nations taking home at least one medal. The diversity of those nations was also apparent: African nations won a combined 40 medals; an all time record for the continent.
Big winners (besides the U.S. and China): Britain had its all time greatest showing in the games, and certainly will be looking to improve on that in 2012. The Jamaican sprinters were flat out awesome, out running the U.S. and everyone else at every turn. And while Jamaicans were partying, Rastafarians everywhere had to be pleased that Ras Tafari’s home nation of Ethiopia brought home seven medals, four of which were golds. South Korea has come a long way to establish itself as an Olympic power. They have consistently been finishing in the top ten for some time, displacing some of the communist powers of Eastern Europe that used to be taking more regular trips to the medal stand.
Who didn’t come out smelling like roses: Some nations just really underperformed: Where was South Africa: 1 bronze! Venezuela should have had a warm welcome among fellow socialists, but they got one bronze too. Greece had won 13 total medals (four golds) when they were the home team in 2000, and 16 total (6 golds) in Sydney. In Beijing, mired in a doping scandal that kept 11 weightlifters home, Greece managed four medals (two silver, two bronze). Sweden picked up five medals, and after fifty years of nearly always being near the top of the medal haul, managed no gold medals. In 1988, Bulgaria topped France, Italy, and China with 35 total medals (10 golds), but managed five total medals (1 gold) in Beijing. The same can be said for Romania (1988: 24 total (7 gold); 2008: 8 total (4 gold)). Cuba has seen a steady drop off after their 1988 boycot: 9 gold in Atlanta; 11 gold in Sydney; 9 gold in Athens; but only 2 gold in Beijing.
The United States has been remarkably consistent over recent Olympics:
Seoul, 1988: 94 total, 36 gold (third to USSR and East Germany in total medals)
Barcelona, 1992: 108 total, 37 gold (second to Unified Team in total medals)
Atlanta, 1996: 101 total, 44 gold
Sydney, 2000: 91 total, 36 gold
Athens, 2004: 102 total, 36 gold
Beijing, 2008: 110 total, 36 gold
So, on some levels, this is the best American showing since the 1984 Los Angeles games, which saw a skewed result with a boycott underway. It seems that the recent Chinese focus on preparation for the Olympics, and the decline in medals to the former communist nations of Eastern Europe, has not had a marked effect on the United States. Toss in Michael Phelps being the unquestioned “athlete of the games”, and the U.S. can call this Olympic outing a great success.
As I stated in an earlier post, the question people are asking now: China invested $40 billion in these games, and several million more in their so-called “Project 119”, which was designed to train athletes in medal rich sports in order to get their medal count up. While it was successful (they didn’t win 119 medals, but still, from 50 to 100 in 12 years is amazing!), now that they are not going to be on the home turf showcasing their socialist-capitalist utopia to the world, will this continue? Certainly, with the shape of China’s economy as it is today, the answer is definitely: “They can”, but economic prosperity is not necessarily something that will last forever …..