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Olympic Heroes

Entry 836, on 2008-08-19 at 21:40:31 (Rating 3, News)

Two recent phenomena started me thinking about sport and what it takes to be incredibly successful at a big event like the Olympics. I noticed that the athletes who had gained large numbers of medals (at this Games and in the past) were almost all swimmers. I also noticed that a swim meet in New Zealand I have just returned from seemed to go on and on forever. Are these observations connected in some way?

Yes, I think they are. There are simply far too many swimming events! There are the four strokes, plus the IM and relays. Then there are all the distances. No wonder someone like Phelps can get so many medals. Do we really need a 100 and 200 butterfly, plus a 200 and 400 individual medley and relays also involving that stroke? I'm not picking on 'fly, the same could apply to other strokes. There are a total of 34 swimming events at these games. The only larger category is athletics with are 47, but that covers events as diverse as sprints, shot put, marathon and pole vault. Few people will be genuinely good at more than one of those.

Because there are so many events its much easier to accumulate medals if you happen to be good at one thing. Other sports suffer from this to some extent as well but it seems to me that swimming is the worst. But what about sports where there is just one event like hockey, baseball or basketball? Accumulating medals in those is impossible.

I don't disagree that Phelps is a superb swimmer and a great athlete, but saying he is the greatest Olympian ever (as I have heard some news sources say) is going too far because its just not possible to make comparisons between different sports.

So I think there should be a few less swimming events. That way it won't dominate the Olympics so much. And I won't have to sit around at swim meets for quite as long!

Just before I close I want to make another observation about the Olympics. I can tell the country of origin of a news source by looking at the medal table. If the source is the US it will rank the countries on the total number of medals, putting the USA at the top. If the source is China it will rank them based on the type of medal (giving gold priority over silver then bronze) putting China clearly at the top.

There's no great surprise here because few people believe the Olympics are much about sport any more. They are more about propaganda and marketing. I heard that Phelps is likely to make a billion dollars from branding using his name. Why would anyone think a product is better just because it has his name on it? Crazy stuff.

We all know how carefully China is managing the propaganda aspects of the Games. But that's the way the world works now, I guess. Sport, along with everything else, is so deeply superficial.

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