This Olympics (2016) Americans Brianna Rollins, Nia Ali and Kristi Castlin became the first athletes from the same country to take all three medals in the same event. As of this morning (Saturday 20 August), the USA leads the gold medal count with 38. Great Britain follows with 25, and China with 22. By far the largest country in the world, for China to be third and sandwiched between the rest of the traditional Western powers is an interesting feat indeed. Old Communist China has done some serious catching up.
Anecdotal evidence has it that in 1978 Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew invited Senior Vice-Premier of the People's Republic of China, Deng Xiaoping for a visit. Deng, it is said, was so taken with the advances the little steamy-sleepy island had made since its independence from Britain, that it was when he returned to China that the transformation of the giant nation began.
After the battering the Chinese had taken from the British, French, Dutch, Americans, Japan and Mao's (in the end) misguided communist unification ideals, China had a lot of work to do. Over 80% of its 960 million were classified as poor,i making do on one tenth of a hectare in the rural areas. They had a nation to uplift, and a mark to make in the sporting world.ii
Meanwhile, between 1941 and 1946, the US had become the war materials factory of the world, allowing it to emerge as the most powerful military and money force. Russia (the actual winner of the war in Europe, but at the cost of over 20 million dead) and Chinaiii (the US’s most strategic partner in the east), come out broken losers, never to be recompensed or even assisted by the West.
In 1948 the Chinese team had to borrow money to get home.iv China’s invite to the ’52 games arrived two days before the start and in the days of prop-engine planes they couldn’t get there on time. On the US’s demand only Taiwan were invited in '56.
China didn't compete again until 1984, where they would win 15 gold medals. The USA took 83.
The Cost Of A Medal
All through the Cold War, the US's Olympians had a huge advantage through their sports scholarships. At a time when the games were strictly amateur, athletes were able to train without the inconvenience of having to work for a living.v
In that vein Hungary had an amazing 1952 Olympics hauling in 16 golds. The secret? They were given higher food allowances, longer vacations for training purposes, cash rewards for breaking new records and customs officials made only the most cursory examination of their luggage when they returned from contests abroad. Being an athlete was a privileged position.
In 1996 Britain won one solitary gold. The following year, National Lottery funding was injected directly into elite Olympic sports for the first time. The return was instant. In the Sydney Games of 2000, the British team won 11 golds. In the lead-up to Beijing, from a £235m investment in training programs, the injection of an extra £165m saw 17 more medals. ‘That's about £10m a medal’ said sports economist Prof David Forrest. 60% comes from the National Lottery (and) ‘almost 40% comes directly … from our pockets via taxes.’vi
‘UK Sport … has pledged almost £350m to Olympic and Paralympic sports between 2013 and 2017, up 11% on the run-up to London 2012,' reported the Guardian. It calculates each Rio medal has cost £5.5mvii, or 47 million Chinese Yuan. The methodology is simple. ‘Sports that have propelled Britain up the medal table have received extra investment while others have had their funding cut altogether.’
Mineral wealthy Australia’s support for the Olympics is huge. ‘If the Australian Olympic Committee’s official forecast of 37 medals for the Rio campaign proves correct, every medal draped around an Australian will come with a $9.2m price tag’, or $340 million of taxpayer money.viii
Nowadays, the US Olympic Committee has created athlete employment programs that offer some support and employment opportunities.ix Support comes in the form of advances made from the GI Billx, employment in armed forces reserves, staying on at university, and the big one; getting sponsored by one of the world’s biggest corporations (though it is true that few get to the US$55 million worth level of Phelps).
The corporates are well aware of (to use John Davis’ book title) ‘The Olympic Games Effect: How Sports Marketing Builds Strong Brands’. They know the Olympics isn’t just a one-off event but a complete story book. That’s why, for example, NBC paid US$1.2 billion for the Rio rights and have already paid US$1.4 billion for 2020 … add in the Winter games and both are over two billion dollars.
15% of all Olympic medals ever awarded have been won by the US, with European countries accounting for 60%. This despite consolidated Europe and America (nearly all ex-colonists) accounting for only 1.1 billion (or around 1/7th) of the world’s population. China has 1.4 billionxi split into 34 provinces (compared to Europe’s 50 countries), of which about 650 million are still rural bound peasants.
What It Really Takes
Olympic dominance is all about wealth. ‘The US is rich. … the countries that are tops in GDP tend to rise to the top of the medal count,' says Justin Petersxii.
From an athletic point of view, the USA’s success comes down to swimming and track and field. More than half of America’s medals this year (and counting) - 31 in swimming, 29 in track and field - came from those two sports. Since the modern Olympics began, the USA has won 520 swimming medals - 342 more than its closest competitor, Australia.
‘When it comes to nurturing and training top-level swimmers, America is the best nation in the world. Elite swimmers here come up through a network of private swim clubs and matriculate at top college programs. USA Swimming, the group that oversees America’s Olympic swimmers, is well-organized and well-funded—it pays athletes $75,000 for each gold medal, plus an extra $50,000 for setting a new world record,’ said Peters.
The gap between the Americans and the rest would be even higher if their facilities and coaches weren’t used by the rest.
A Better Plan?
Until 1936 the Olympics were modest affairsxiii at which those who could afford participated. Then they became political, show pieces as important as the race into outer space, and nowadays to prove economic worthiness. It is true China has spent phenomenal amounts of money to develop both sportsmen and women and facilities.
A first tranche came in the build up to 1988 when some US$260m was pumped in (China managed 5 golds then). Then came the spectacular and hugely expensive show piece, the 2008 Beijing Olympics, to show the world China had not only emerged but was to date the most successful mixed economy ever.
The label ‘communist’ was destroyed in all but the mind and presentations of the corporate owned Western media and its billion plus European audience. Even so the amount spent per person in China is a fraction of that pushed into its athletes by the West.
The reason is China is planning long-term. The upliftment and education of all of its people are the priorities for its ‘spare’ money.
China’s new found wealth, accumulated by doing all the West’s dirty production work, hasn’t been pumped into Olympic glory.
In 1995, where Australia’s GDP per person was around USD 20,300 and the UK USD 29,000, China’s GDP was USD 600. In the following 20 years that grew to USD 6,700 (2013).xiv Over a 30 year period, beginning in 1980/81, China pulled nearly 700 million people out of poverty and reduced extreme poverty to 10%. 'And the work continues,' was the announcement last year by President XI Jinping.xv
Education in China at both school and university level has shown phenomenal growth. Germany’s train system is a Chinese export (a study in the pupil becoming the teacher),xvi and their space research is plumbing phenomenal depths. The country plans to mine the moon for its large deposits of Helium-3, a rare substance that can give enough power for 10,000 years, a radical solution to global warming. China is so involved in European research that the ESA head called for 'space without borders' during his first China visit.’xvii Even more amazing is that even with all of the growth, China’s (and neighbour India's) ecological foot printxviii remains a third of the US.
‘China, in particular, has invested substantially in renewable energy, and its decades-long focus on reducing fertility has also helped preserve its bio-capacity per person.’ All the while the US still leads the world with over 17 carbon dioxide units emitted per person - the UK are at 7.92 and China at a lowly 6.52.xix
And while the world has been changing, many reports indicate the US isn’t investing in all of its people. Corporate profits are going up, the trickle down economy has been a failure, its public school system is slowly disintegrating and higher education is mired in debt.
Recent statistics show the number of people living in high-poverty areas (defined as census tracts where 40 percent or more of families have income levels below the federal poverty threshold) has nearly doubled between 2000 and 2013 (to 13.8 million). That’s the highest number of Americans living in high-poverty neighborhoods ever recorded.xx
In the UK the Guardian reports ‘the 50% rise in families receiving working tax credits since 2003 reflects the 20% increase in the working poor.’xxi The situation has gone so far backwards that ‘… every day, people in the UK go hungry for reasons ranging from unexpectedly large bills on a low income, to static incomes and redundancy. As a result, the Trussell Trust, the biggest provider of food banks in Britain, has seen the number of people using its service soar from 40,898 in 2009/10, to 913,138 in 2013/14.’xxii
The wider European community isn’t immune either. Indeed in Paris, France’s wealthiest enclave, the situation is amplified with strikes and clashes with police getting more serious by the day. Out of the region’s 12 million people ‘a full 15 percent survive on less than €990 ($1,130) a month - and half of these people have less than €750.’xxiii Spain (national debt EU$1,058,709,869,081) and Italy (real unemployment at about 26% as measured in 2012xxiv) are worse, but both have enough to spend on a few to show they can win gold.
At the same time the wealth that does exist in these areas is based on having introduced the most horrific conditions into (among others and only looking at North Africa and the Middle East) Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, the Sudan and Ethiopia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran - resulting in the wave of refugees that is now destabilising these Western powers.
Somehow the West can hide its embarrassment, have the IOC allow a Refugee Team to compete and have the media successfully blow the phenomenon into a success story - completely ignoring the millions the main medal winners and principal war making allies Israel and Saudi Arabia have killed, maimed, raped and left for dead all over the world in the name of money. The same money that is used to project national honours in the form of gold, silver and bronze.
The second, hugely bigger refugee wave is due soon as some of the world’s poorest and biggest by population find their countries too hot and unable to produce food or water. For them the only escape route is Europe. It's then that the competition, a deadly one, will start.
Beginning with the Reagan and Thatcher era, while China has been pulling people out of poverty, the reverse is true in the US. Except for Tibet, China has never invaded anybody. True it has now begun a process of economic invasion, but where the US offers debt through the IMF, World Bank and its banks with fiat money,xxv China pays cash.
There are numerous reports circulating of the extreme conditions under which China selects, trains and presents her athletes. Once in the stream to be trained for an Olympic medal all else is forgone – family and formal education included. I don’t have a problem with that. They amount to a few hundred and China has signed up to fight a war against poverty. Today, I believe that's important.
ii'Since initiating market reforms in 1978, China has shifted from a centrally-planned to a market-based economy and has experienced rapid economic and social development. GDP growth has averaged nearly 10 percent a year—the fastest sustained expansion by a major economy in history—and has lifted more than 800 million people out of poverty.' ... World Bank at http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/china/overview
Forgotten ally? China's unsung role in World War II … www.cnn.com/2015/08/31/opinions/china-wwii-forgotten-ally-rana-mitter/ … China lost 14 million people in World War II
v ‘Amazing & Extraordinary Facts - The Olympics’ by Stephen Halliday and see ‘Free Money for Athletic Scholarships’ by Laurie Blum.
http://www.bbc.com/news/business ... ‘Olympic success: How much does a gold medal cost?’ by Richard Anderson
The average income for South African blacks in 2012 was R10,000 pa.
‘For example, the Team USA Athlete Career and Education Program (ACE) exists to link aspiring athletes with organizations like Coca-Cola and Dick’s Sporting Goods, among others, that provide full- and part-time employment’...http://qz.com/756213/the-true-financial-burden-of-becoming-an-olympic-gold-medalist/
It was the post WWII war soldier re-build-your-life programme www.gibill.va.gov/ … ‘The GI Bill provides educational assistance to servicemembers, veterans, and their dependents.’
xiiiSport: A Cultural History by Richard D. Mandell
Google at Explore more
xvi Chinese train technology rolls into Germany - World - Chinadaily.com.cn
see en.yibada.com/articles/113421/ and see english.cas.cn › Newsroom › News Updates Apr 15, 2016
‘… a measure of people’s demand on nature …’ @ http://www.footprintnetwork.org/
‘inconvertible paper money made legal tender by a government decree’ as backed by the US of As’ army.