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Published on Tuesday, October 3, 2000 in Newsday
No, The US Didn't 'Win' The Olympics
by Robert Reno
STRANGE AS it seems, there is not a huge and suitably vulgar trophy that can be hauled from Sydney and displayed in the Capitol rotunda as a bragging token of America's standing as the world's No. 1 sports power.

This is because, as most school children learn to their amazement, no nation "wins" the Olympics. This may seem a tiresome technicality amid all the puerile and inelegant boasting, egged on by the drooling coverage of the National Broadcasting Co., that has surrounded America's performance at the Olympics-where it won 97medals, "beating" Russia with 88 and "humiliating" China with 59. The word for what "we" did to Vietnam, which took a single silver, is unimaginable in the language that drives the sports world and its cheerleading network co-promoters.

And why couldn't our muscular soldiers similarly whip the same nation at rice-patty polo during the recent unpleasantness known as the Vietnam War? Personally, I feel deeply humiliated by the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, a nation with a gene pool of only 284,000 souls, many of them infants or too old, lame or fat to compete. This upstart of an archipelago took home two medals, which is a per-capita performance far more brilliant than that of the United States with a gene pool of 274 million and a reliable supply of immigrants attracted by the rich rewards it gives star athletes.

Funny, I didn't see any Bahamians behaving boorishly, waving their flag like a beach towel at Sydney. And, speaking of humiliation, giving up Elian Gonzales was nothing compared with Cuba's showing. Explain to me how a nation of 11 million wins 29 medals when the United States is 24 times as populous.

The Cubans must have cheated. Either that or they train their athletes with cattle prods. Imagine a nation where we are assured its people don't have enough to eat and drive 40-year-old DeSotos outperforming mighty Japan.

People who find Australians insufferable and their accents annoying will be particularly displeased by their showing. On a per-capita basis, they stomped our butts. There are only 18.7 million Australians, a barely noticeable slice of the world's 6 billion people or America's 274 million. And they got almost half as many medals as we did. The more populous mother country, Britain, was deeply skunked, getting roughly half as many medals as its provincial cousins who started out as a bunch of brawling convicts evicted from the jails of Ireland and England. I imagine that all over the Outback they're retelling that joke about how you tell when another planeload of tourists arrives from England. Answer: It keeps on whining after the engines shut down.

Many factors influencing the outcome of the Olympics have little to do with naturally occurring brawn or skill. These include economics, which determine the availability of swimming pools, tracks, gyms, horse stables and equipment in a given society. They also include differences in average stature, which means many Asians run with shorter strides.

Finally, the games are influenced by politics, which gives an advantage to state-controlled athletics. "Winning" the Olympics is a deeply stupid concept that any mature nation should have by now outgrown.

Copyright Newsday, Inc


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