Track and Field sags as athletes gather to fight . . . for pennies

October 10, 2012 by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Track & Field 

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 10, 2012 – It’s election season in the United States, and more than a few voters aren’t sure whom to believe: Democrats, Republicans, corporations, unions, Super-PACs, not-so-super PACs and on and on.

Same for track & field, even in the afterglow of an outstanding Olympic Games in London. Consider the concerns of IAAF Council Member and Athletics Kenya chair Isaiah Kiplagat in a September story from the Chinese news agency Xinhua:

November’s IAAF Council Meeting set for Barcelona, Spain could provide a watershed for some of the competitions whose death knell has been sounded including the World Cross Country Championships that are now biennial.

Speaking on the proposed reforms in Nairobi on Tuesday, IAAF Council Member and Athletics Kenya chairman Isaiah Kiplagat also affirmed his nation that has excelled in some of the events under review was concerned about the future of the country’s distance runners.

“Events like World Half Marathon, World Cross Country, the Continental Cup (formerly World Cup) and World Youth championships are getting no bidders and are almost dying.”

“Television is also becoming a problem since they do not want to cover some events because they are not attractive and they do not get sponsors,” Kiplagat said.

“We are trying to ask the IOC to include the World Cross as part of the Winter Olympics but logistically it is difficult to get 24 competitors from each nation participating accommodated.”

“At the moment, we are discussing at IAAF which events can be sustained and those that cannot and plans are underway to contract a strong marketing company that will advice on which events to be scrapped and retained,” the Council Member stressed. …

“It is a worry but continents are being encouraged to have their own cross country series. If there is no cross country, then there will be no track since every athlete who wants to be a (distance) champion must go through cross country.”

But the IAAF, at least its Secretary General, doesn’t see the situation as all that dire:

International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) general secretary Essar Gabriel has admitted that athletics can take measures to improve its standing in the global marketplace, but has knocked back suggestions the sport needs a major repackaging.

Gabriel’s comments come after top Nike executive Charlie Denson last month said the company would seek to play a “large part” in an athletics series modelled on cricket’s Indian Premier League (IPL). With the London Olympics now over, attention has again turned to how athletics can maintain the interest levels generated by the exploits of stars such as Usain Bolt and Mo Farah in between Games. Following its launch in 2008, the IPL has become one of the world’s leading sports brands and has propelled the Twenty20 format of cricket into the mainstream consciousness of sports fans. Denson, who serves as president of the Nike brand, said athletics may attract more media and sponsor interest in non-Olympic years if it “repackaged” itself in a similar manner to the IPL.

However, Gabriel has maintained that the viewing figures generated by the IAAF’s elite events demonstrate that the organisation’s strategy is working. “First of all we have to look at the numbers,” he told SportBusiness International. “The World Championships in Athletics, the jewel in our crown, they attracted above five billion TV viewers in Daegu (2011), which could be argued was not in the most attractive time zone. In Berlin (2009) we were around eight billion and these are figures that are constantly delivered on a biennial basis and place the World Championships as the third biggest event in terms of live television audience, after the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup.” . . .

He added: “Can we do better in terms of the Diamond League? Yes we can, but by the same token the Diamond League can also be classed today as a success. When we look at the audience figures and talk with IMG, the agency who’s selling those rights, we are above what we expected when we first formed the Diamond League. Sometimes I hear people compare the Diamond League with the Golden League, or even before that the Golden Four, and the cumulative audience figures for the Diamond League is much higher than the Golden League. So in terms of perception, this is something that really has to be taken into account. The second thing to say is that the one-day meetings today cover the entire globe, which was not the case with the Golden League. We have now spread across all the continents so overall we can always do better, and will continue to look into that, but I think that what is in place already is a strong calendar of one-day meetings, plus World Championship events to blend well with the Olympics.”

In the meantime, Khadevis Robinson, the four-time U.S. 800 m champion and president of the Track and Field Athletes Association spoke to Christopher Kelsall of Athletics Illustrated about its efforts on behalf of professional track & field athletes worldwide:

Well, the TFAA has been in the works for a while. The one thing that made us really start to make a push was Rule 40. We really felt that the sport was not moving forward in a positive way where everyone wins. . . .

The controversial [Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter] prohibits Olympians from mentioning or promoting any sponsor during the Olympic Games unless that sponsor is an official Olympic sponsor. The rule has roots in the idea that Olympians ought to be amateur athletes -, which is a concept that ended in 1992. No one wants to go back to an Olympics that exclude professional athletes. It is one thing to regulate the visibility of brands on athletes while they are competing, but to extend regulations to what an athlete posts on his or her personal social networking site is not fair. . . .

The plight of the professional USA track and Field athlete is similar to the plight of athletes from other countries. The challenges that are faced are the challenges of making a sustainable income. The challenge of finding and maintaining quality sponsors. The challenge of having adequate health and medical benefits. The challenge of putting away for retirement.

This is madness. While soccer, rugby and cricket move ahead, track athletes fiddle around on the margins, worrying about tweeting their sponsor’s names during a competition that happens once every four years.

If I were, say, Carmelita Jeter, Allyson Felix, Sanya Richards-Ross, Nick Symmonds, Reese Hoffa and Ashton Eaton, I would be on a plane to New York to meet with George Bodenheimer, John Skipper and Norby Williamson of ABC Sports/ESPN, Sean McManus and David Berson at CBS Sports, and Mark Lazarus, Jon Litner and Jon Miller of NBC Sports, then to Los Angeles to meet with David Hill, Ed Goren and Eric Shanks of FOX Sports.

The goal would be to sell one of the over-the-air networks as the home of a new, weekly track & field series (with strong prize money) that would replace the National Football League on Sunday afternoons from the week after the Super Bowl in mid-February through at least the July 4th/Independence Day weekend.

Once college football concludes in the second week in January and the NFL wraps up in early February, the over-the-air networks are left with a mish-mash of basketball, hockey, golf, horse racing, auto racing and early-season baseball that meanders through the months until the rhythm of football begins again. None of these sports span the entire football off-season the way track & field does, and the opportunity to attract female fans – given the dominant U.S. women’s team – is perhaps better than in any other sport.

Moreover, the opportunity for the network to recoup some or all of its investment through syndication to foreign countries – especially Europe – is great. Consider that a 1 p.m. Eastern time meet would begin at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. in Great Britain and on the continent, in prime time.

The meet schedule – all outdoors, or a combination of indoor and outdoor meets – can be arranged to maintain fan interest; there are lots of scenarios for this and they can be worked out with the right broadcast partner. The networks have large staffs of sales executives who can package broadcast and event sponsorships and there are dozens of would-be meet promoters who would jump at the chance to promote the meets. To showcase just some of the possibilities, consider these concepts, which I whipped up as just one set of options.

For American athletes, unquestionably the world’s outstanding track nation, the goal should be to stop fighting over pennies and bring the sport into prime time. But you can’t do that if you’re worried about whether you are going to be able to tweet about it or not.

(You can stay current with Rich’s technology, sports and Olympic commentaries by following him at

Guest opinion: “Jamaica: The Sprinters Paradise”

August 21, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Olympic Games, Track & Field 

LOS ANGELES, August 21, 2012 – This space is usually reserved for my own take on current events, but here is a unique and interesting guest paper offered by Professor Trevor Hall.

Hall, a dual U.S.-Jamaican citizen, earned his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins, and has taught African and world history and Portuguese culture at universities in the U.S., the Caribbean and Africa. Pac-10 track veterans may remember him from his triple-jumping days at Arizona State, where he earned All-American honors for his sixth-place finish at the 1975 NCAA Championships.

His paper, (attached here) entitled “Jamaica: The Sprinters Paradise” was completed just prior to the 2012 Olympic Games in London and provides a fascinating insight into Jamaica’s emergence into the world track & field scene after 2005, but only in the sprints. As he notes in his conclusion:

In the past, Jamaican sprinters accepted athletic scholarships to American universities, where some succeeded but most became burned out. But with the end of the Cold War, the birth of professional track and field, and a scientific, almost fool-proof drug-testing protocol of the IAAF and WADA–since 2004, Jamaican sprinters began to stay at home. Instead of going to American universities and running as amateurs, Jamaican athletes remain at home where they attend university, run, and make money as professionals. In Jamaica sprinters never experience cold, and do not run cross-country—they only sprint.

Hall has further comments, based on his own observations and experience, on doping, under-the-table payments of amateur and collegiate athletes, the Jamaican high-school training system and a lot more. His opinions, as expressed in the paper, are – of course – his alone and I make no comment on them other than to provide this forum for their expression. Hall can be contacted at

(You can stay current with Rich’s technology, sports and Olympic commentaries by following him at

OG 2012 Track & Field: U.S. Olympic track team “bats” .364 in London, up 105 points over 2011 World Championships!

August 16, 2012 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Olympic Games, Track & Field 

LOS ANGELES, August 16, 2012 – There’s no doubt that the 2012 U.S. Olympic track & field team fared better than the 2011 U.S. World Championships team, but there is the question of why?

On the medal table, the American tracksters won 29 in London compared to 25 in Daegu in 2011, and can be explained in part by the fact that 36.4% of the team performed better at the Games than at the U.S. Olympic Trials. In baseball parlance, we’d say the U.S. hit .364 in London, against the Trials marks . . . a whopping 105 points better than the quite-ordinary .259 from Daegu against the U.S. championships. In detail:

• American men performed better at the Games than the Trials 34.5% of the time (19 out of 55 competitors), compared to a miserable 21.3% rate (11.5-54) in Daegu in 2011;

• American women did even better, doing better in London 38.2% of the time (21 out of 55 competitors), a bit better than the 30.8% (16-52) betterment rate of 2011;

• Combined, the U.S. team was better in London 36.4% of the time: 40 out of 110); that’s a .364 “batting average,” much ahead of the .259 (27.5-106) in Daegu.

Looking more closely inside these overall numbers:

Men’s team:
By event group, here’s how the men did from events included in the Olympic Trials meet in Eugene, using marks from the last level of competition competed in at London – preferably the final – but the qualification rounds if not advanced to the final:

• Sprints & Hurdles (5 events): 53.3% of the athletes did better in London than Eugene (8-15);
• Middle Distances (2): 66.7% did better in London (4-6);
• Distances (3): 0.0% did better in London (0-9);
• Walk (1 event in Trials): 100% did better in London (1-1);
• Jumps (4): 36.4% did better in London (4-11);
• Throws (4): 9.1% did better in London (1-11);
• Combined (1): 50.0% did better in London (1-2).

Women’s team:
• Sprints & Hurdles (5 events): 73.3% of the athletes did better in London than Eugene (11-15);
• Middle Distances (2): 16.7% did better in London (1-6);
• Distances (3): 55.6% did better in London (5-9);
• Walk (1 event in Trials): 100% did better in London (1-1);
• Jumps (4): 20.0% did better in London (2-10);
• Throws (4): 9.1% did better in London (1-11);
• Combined (1): 0.0% did better in London (0-3).

Clearly, the sprints and hurdles group was a strength, as well as the men’s middle distance runners, women’s distance runners and decathletes. But both jumps groups were under 37% and the men’s and women’s throws teams combined for a depressing 2-22 performance in London compared with Eugene. Both walkers were good, but were not competitive in terms of medal possibilities.

The full chart, in detail, is here.

It was previously noted that the U.S. championships for 2011 were held nine weeks prior to the Worlds in Daegu, while the U.S. Olympic Trials were only 4 1/2 weeks ahead of the Games. In 2013, the U.S. championships that will select the American team for the World Championships will be in Des Moines, Iowa from 5-8 June, while the IAAF World Championships will be held nine weeks later in Moscow, Russia from 10-18 August.

The case can be made that having the team selection meet as late as possible allows athletes to come to one training peak and then try to hold it, rather than peaking and then re-peaking weeks later. Based on the results of Daegu and London, the empirical evidence from this small sample size indicates that later might be better.

Longtime observers of the sport will remember that the team which seemed to always be the best prepared – physically and chemically – for championships performances, was the East German squad, which usually held its trials just two weeks before, registering its athletes on the last possible date allowed. Might USA Track & Field be willing to try this . . . perhaps with the Junior Championships in 2014, in advance of the first-ever IAAF World Junior Championships to be held in the U.S., in Eugene?

(You can stay current with Rich’s technology, sports and Olympic commentaries by following him at

Olympic Games 2012: Ten takeaways from the London Games

August 14, 2012 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Olympic Games, Track & Field 

LOS ANGELES, August 14, 2012/updated/ – The packing has begun and the worldwide television audience is already moving on to baseball, football and soccer, depending where you are. But the Games of the XXX Olympiad will leave many lasting memories. Looking at the Games with an analytic eye – after serving with five Olympic organizing committees over the past quarter-century – these memories, congratulations and questions stand out:

No. 10: London’s legacy? Too early to tell.
These were excellent Games, beautiful to watch and for the most part, quite well organized. Looking at the 2012 plan, perhaps the outstanding concept was to convert some of London’s historic places to competition venues, making the statement that building new isn’t always best. Has there ever been a more spectacular setting for archery than the Lord’s Cricket Ground?

But these were evolutionary Games, another step forward, but not revolutionary. The way business is conducted in the Olympic Movement won’t significantly change by the way the London organizers prepared the Games, although Tony Blair changed forever the way Olympic bids are promoted by governments to members of the International Olympic Committee. Ministers will no longer be good enough; the head of state must now be present.

London’s bid documents projected a public cost of £2.4 billion (~ $3.75 billion U.S.) in 2005 that quickly ballooned to £9.3 billion (~ $14.55 billion U.S.), not to mention the London Olympic and Paralympic organizing committee (LOCOG) budget of £2.15 billion (~ $3.36 billion) from its share of television rights sales, tickets, sponsorships and licensing. Reports about the 2016 Games in Rio indicate public spending of even more, perhaps $12-15 billion U.S.. Is it worth it?

London’s legacy will be in better focus by the time the 2017 IAAF World Track & Field Championships shines the light on the city once again.

No. 9: What about those empty seats?
One of the irritants of the Games to Londoners was the sight of empty seats when tickets could not be had at many of the most popular venues. This outrage is good, and will help to force the I.O.C. to force its members and their guests to decide what they want to see in advance . . . and allow the rest of the tickets to be sold to the public.

The more pressure, the better.

No. 8: The U.S. did well, which helps everyone
I.O.C. President Jacques Rogge will be remembered for many things accomplished during his term in office, but one of them will likely be plain speaking. He has been clear that it is to the advantage of the Olympic Movement – especially in financial terms – that the United States team do well at the Games.

And the U.S. did brilliantly, with 104 medals, most of any nation, and without any known acts of vandalism, assaults, arrests or other bad behavior. That’s good for the U.S. Olympic Committee, good for the U.S. national governing bodies and good for American television and sponsors, by whose support much of the Olympic Movement is financed.

No. 7: NBC did well, which helps everyone
Despite plenty of criticism, NBC’s Olympic broadcasts drew huge prime-time audiences, a 17.5 aveage prime-time rating and may have allowed the network to break even on a mammoth investment of more than $1.2 billion to televise the Games.

Although NBC has already secured the right to the Games through 2020 for $4.38 billion, its success in London will encourage it to do more and more for a larger audience, rather than less and less for a shrinking one. Yes, there are lots of problems to be fixed with the video-streaming technology, which was active and good only some of the time, but this will improve as technology gets better. The constant repetition of badly-placed online commercials will also get fixed with experience. However, a good Olympics for NBC can open doors for more Olympic sport on U.S. television . . . if the U.S.O.C. and the national governing bodies figure out how to present their sport in the right way.

No. 6: All honor to Jon Drummond
Prior to London, the 1996 Games in Atlanta was the last Olympics in which the U.S. 4 x 100 m and 4 x 400 m relay teams actually got the stick around the track and finished with medals. The repeated failures of both the men’s and women’s sprint relay teams had made the U.S. effort a continuing joke in track & field circles.

Enter Jon Drummond, a fine sprinter in his own right, fifth in the Sydney 100 meters in 2000 and a gold (2000) and silver (1996) medalist on U.S. Olympic 4 x 100 m relays, but also well remembered for his on-track tantrum after being disqualified for a false start in the quarterfinals of the 2003 World Championships 100 meters.

In London, however, as the American relay coach, all his teams did was run the second fastest time in Olympic history (41.64: women/heats), set a world record of 40.82 (women/final), set an American record of 37.38 (men/heats) and run the equal-second-fastest time in history and another American record (37.04) in the final. Moreover, this was done with four different line-ups!

There were plenty of critics who said the U.S., especially the men, could never run that fast, but they did. Sign this guy up for another four years!

No. 5: Will some sports be eliminated in future Games?
There were 26 sports in London and Rio will see the return of golf and rugby for a total of 28. But the continuing controversy in some sports, such as boxing – with its overturing of multiple decisions – and the availability of other sports that are ready to replace them (notably softball), will make for interesting discussions when the I.O.C. reviews the program in 2013, as it did in 2005 and 2009. I have my own list of sports to be shaved, but that’s for another day.

No. 4: How about those British announcers?
Those of us who have been around the Olympic Movement for a while remember the hysterical criticisms of ABC in 1980 (Winter) and 1984 and NBC in 1996 and 2002 (Winter) for the “homerism” of the announcers. The Brits set a new standard in this category in London on the BBC coverage, but some of the most astonishing comments came during the introductions of competitors on the Olympic Broadcast Service (OBS) commentary!

At track & field, the OBS coverage team included Stuart Storey, a 1968 Olympic high hurdler for Britain, ace statistician Peter Matthews and throws coach John Trower. During the introduction of the men’s discus throwers, I believe it was Storey who glowingly remarked, “Now we have some tall, muscular men who are going to throw the discus” . . . followed a couple of days later by Trower, who said of the women’s hammer throwers as they were lining up for introductions, “They’re moving now, they’re actually doing what they’re told. I wish my wife would do as she was told.” No chance you’d ever hear that on American television; a unique London memory.

No. 3: Good for Lolo Jones
Jere Longman’s silly criticism of Lolo Jones in the New York Times predictably focused on titillation at the expense of the important.

To say that Jones’s achievements aren’t enough to merit her sponsorships is simply pathetic: this year alone, she has the world’s seventh-fastest time in the 100 m hurdles and she finished fourth in the Olympic Games. Her lifetime best of 12.43 from 2008 ranks equal-14th all-time, she was ranked first in the world in 2008 by Track & Field News and first in the U.S. in 2008 and 2010 and was a six-time outdoor All-American at LSU (three times in the hurdles, three times on relays). She is a great athlete and she has a great story to tell; good for her.

Longman noted in his August 4 story that “Nineteen hurdlers internationally have posted faster times this year than Jones’s best, 12.74 seconds, including the other two Americans in the field.” Where was the follow-up apology for Jones’s 12.68 heats win, 12.71 in the semi and then 12.58, her fastest in two years, to finish fourth, all of 0.10 seconds from a medal? She brought it in the biggest meet of the quadrennium and should be congratulated.

A much more important issue is raised only as a sidelight in the story. After trashing Jones, Longman notes in passing that teammates Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells, who despite being better than Jones this year, have very little sponsorship attention. That’s as much as issue for USA Track & Field as it is for Harper and Wells, and bears watching over the following year.

No. 2: The debate is on: Lewis or Bolt?
The dust-up over whether Usain Bolt or Carl Lewis are bigger Olympic “legends” is great for discussion, and perhaps can help to keep track & field in the spotlight until we get to Rio.

Both are great, and statisticians like myself are already digging out the career records to figure out who might really be best. Bolt can polish his case with more World Championships and Olympic golds, but as he admits to being – in his words – “a lazy person,” the watch is on now to see if he’ll even keep competing.

No. 1: Year of the Woman
It’s been pointed out elsewhere how women shone brightly in London, and especially on the U.S. team, where women won the majority of medals and had, for the first time, more entrants than men.

The U.S. is quite a bit more forward than other countries in providing opportunities for women in sports, and as the post-collegiate programs have developed, into making women into Olympic medal-class competitors. That’s great, and good for the future, although other countries will notice and begin catching up over time.

But the mammoth failures of the U.S. in men’s boxing and gymnastics are signs of trouble for the future. Moreover, collegiate competition has nearly collapsed in men’s gymnastics, volleyball and wrestling, and along with a ridiculous 12.6 scholarships for men’s track & field (women get 18, but for a sport with 21 events!), are going to make the U.S. less and less competitive into the future.

This is not an issue for the schools involved – which are trying to balance budgets and comply with Title IX requirements – or the NCAA, which has its hands full with other issues and which allows its members to choose the sports in which they wish to participate. But it is an issue for the U.S. Olympic Committee and its national governing bodies. To quote Don Tomasino in Godfather III: “Your enemies always get strong on what you leave behind.”

(You can stay current with Rich’s technology, sports and Olympic commentaries by following him at

Olympic Games 2012: How did the U.S. pull off winning the medal count?

August 13, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Olympic Games 

LOS ANGELES, August 13, 2012 – Of all the many surprises at the Games of the XXX Olympiad, having the United States atop the medal table for the fifth straight Games is as shocking as any.

Based on the results of the most recent World Championships in each sport prior to the Games as compiled by the highly-respected Italian Olympic organizer Luciano Barra, the U.S. was projected to finish third to the Chinese (100) and Russians (79), with 78 total medals (projections did not include tennis).

Instead, the U.S. won 104 total medals, to China’s 87, followed by Russia at 82, Great Britain at 65 and Germany with 44. What happened?

United States:
London saw a startling performance by the U.S. team, winning 104 medals, with 46 golds, compared with 110 medals in Beijing, but 36 golds. It was very much the “year of the woman” for the U.S., with 58 out of the 104 total (29-14-15: 56%), in part due to men’s teams which significantly underachieved, especially boxing and gymnastics. Injuries accounted for a few other men’s medals which were missed, notably in track & field.

But the 2012 medal haul was an astonishing achievement for the only National Olympic Committee in the world which does not receive direct funding from its government. While other national sports leaders, like John Coates of Australia, wailed about the need for more government funds to increase its medal chances, the U.S. Olympic Committee stood firm with the International Olympic Committee to protect its economic base and dole out the monies it has to try and develop medal winners. And, once again, it worked.

Sure, there are storm clouds on the horizon, especially the continuing decimation of men’s collegiate sports programs in track & field, volleyball and wrestling, which continue to get cut at school after school because of pressures from Title IX requirements and football. And the U.S.’s lead in women’s sports – it won 58 compared to 49 for China and 44 for Russia – will shrink over time as the world catches up with better training, more funding . . . and more foreign athletes getting scholarships at U.S. colleges.

The U.S. does well at the Games at sports in which Americans are interested, winning 75 medals in just six sports: track & field (29), swimming (31), gymnastics (6), tennis (4), basketball (2) and volleyball (3), and 25 in the other 20 sports. That means there are many, many opportunities for improvement, if the U.S.O.C. can harness more success (raise the profile?) in other sports where they is already much promise – wrestling, shooting, fencing, taekwondo – and current failures like boxing and weightlifting.

After winning 100 medals, and an amazing 51 golds, in Beijing in 2008, China was expected to just keep on truckin’ . . . but history shows that it doesn’t happen that way.

In the “post-boycott” era from 1988 to today, the average medal count for a host country goes down by about eight medals in the succeeding Games. China won 87, a loss of 13 from their Beijing total, but still +24 from their Athens haul of 63.

It’s fascinating the look at where China won its medals. The international sports federations – the organizations which govern each Olympic sport worldwide – divide up a share of Olympic television rights fees provided by the International Olympic Committee among themselves. The split is based on a vote among the federations, dividing the 26 sports into four tiers, from the largest and most popular (track & field) to the fourth tier (the 14 smallest and least-shown sports on Olympic television broadcasts worldwide).

(The four tiers:

Tier 1: Track & Field;
Tier 2: Aquatics, Basketball, Cycling, Gymnastics, Soccer, Tennis, Volleyball;
Tier 3: Equestrian, Handball, Hockey, Rowing;
Tier 4: Archery, Badminton, Boxing, Canoe, Fencing, Judo, Modern Pentathlon, Sailing, Shooting, Table Tennis, TaeKwonDo, Triathlon, Weightlifting, Wrestling.)

Based on this division, the distribution of medals between China and the U.S. looked like this:

• Tier 1: China 5, USA 29
• Tier 2: China 37, USA 56
• Tier 3: China 1, USA 3
• Tier 4: China 44, USA 16.

(A full comparison between the sports is here.)

The Chinese have brilliantly developed dominance in sports with a lot of medals, but not much non-Olympic interest worldwide, such as badminton, shooting, table tennis and weightlifting, in which they won 28 medals in all. Already dominant in diving (10 medals), they are catching up quickly in swimming (10) and artistic gymnastics (8); those seven sports account for 56 of their 87 medals (64%).

As the Chinese continue to progress and throw money at new efforts in more sports, their medal count will continue to climb. They haven’t reached the top yet, but they aren’t far from it.

Although the Russians got off to a slow start, they collected 82 medals in all, +10 vs. their pathetic 72 medals in Beijing in 2008. Since the break-up of the Soviet sports machine after the 1992 Games in Barcelona (111 medals), Russia has been up and down, with no discernable pattern:

• 1996: 63 medals;
• 2000: 88 medals;
• 2004: 92 medals;
• 2008: 72 medals;
• 2012: 82 medals.

This is a country in transition and it’s hard to know what the future is; a major effort for Winter Games medals is underway with Russia hosting the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi; perhaps that will be the spur for a better summer effort in Rio.

Great Britain
Thanks to home cooking, rapturous crowd and a cascade of funding from the British government, the Brits scored 65 medals, the most since the 1908 Games in London, where it won 146.

Although British commentators have been wild about their success, it’s actually about average for host countries. As noted last year, the average medal count for a host country goes up by about 14 medals.

This time, the British were +18 vs. their 2008 total in Beijing of 47, a bit better than average, but considerably less – for example – that the +37 by the Chinese from 2004 to 2008. Nevertheless, it’s a great showing, and will not be repeated in Rio. If history is our guide, the British will be in the 54-58 range four years from now.

This was a great Games, one of the best in terms of competition quality, organization and technical management, and one for which the British people should be proud. For the U.S., it was a stunning triumph of effort by self-selected individuals who decided they wanted to be Olympians. And in our divided country in a highly divisive election year, that is something all Americans can be proud of.

(You can stay current with Rich’s technology, sports and Olympic commentaries by following him at

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