Berkeley arts and culture prof Michael O’Hare has had an epiphany:
I don’t understand the endless obsession of Olympic commentators and event organizers with the countries competitors come from: parading in national costumes at the opening, keeping score by country on the front web page of the NY Times, Canadian whining about not winning enough medals, event winners swanning around waving their flags. It’s pointlessly nationalistic, but it’s also stupid: counting, much less comparing or “scoring” Olympic medal numbers per country, is like obsessing over a one-heat race among cheetahs, walruses, hares, tortoises, and trees.
Given that Canada has a little more than a tenth the population of the US, they’re “beating” us three to one by any reasonable measure; given that Americans mostly live where it’s much less wintry than any of Canada, so what? Given that Austria and Norway are rich, mountainous, and cold, why wouldn’t they rack up lots of wins at a winter sports party? Enough already; lets let the kids compete and have fun, and not coopt them as cannon fodder in a silly and jingoistic PR battle.
I would submit that “pointless nationalism” is the raison d’Ãªtre of the Olympics. Otherwise, it’s just ballet dancers dressed in silly costumes prancing about on the ice.
He does, of course, have a point in asserting that all countries aren’t equal and it’s silly to pretend they are. Indeed, that’s why the Olympics became much less relevant for many of us after the demise of the Soviet Union. Not only were they the “bad guys” but they were a peer competitor. Now, we’re left only with China and mostly in the Summer Games. Indeed, the Winter Games are actually rather embarrassing most years, with Team USA finishing behind countries smaller than some of Ted Turner’s ranches.
And, indeed, after Team USA got off to a rousing start, the Germans has now caught us in the gold count and are within a whisker of us for the total.