LOS ANGELES, Aug. 2, 2011 – Despite being the home country for the 2008 Olympic Games, there was no way that China was going to win the most medals. The top spot on the medal table was always going to be reserved for the United States after the sensational results of the 2007 World Championships in aquatics and athletics.
In Olympic events, the Americans tallied 59 medals in the two events to 16 for China, and at the Games a year later, the count was 56-20 with the U.S. finally winning 110 total medals to 100 for home-standing Chinese.
But four years later, things are a lot different, especially in the water.
Looking quickly at the medal table for the just-completed 2011 FINA World Aquatics Championships, the U.S. once again showed strongly, but the Chinese improvement was dramatic:
In swimming, usually America’s strongest Olympic sport, the American tallied 29 medals in the World Championships, but in looking ahead to the Olympics, only events that will be contested in London count. So while the U.S. vs. China tally in swimming in pre-Olympic-year World Championships of 2007 was 30-2 (and 31-6 at the 2008 Olympics), the Americans won 25 swimming medals last week in Shanghai vs. 12 for China, a big difference.
In diving, where the U.S. used to lead the world, the Chinese are totally dominant, and won gold medals in all 10 events and 14 in total, to one for the U.S. Using Olympic events only, China won 10 medals to one, actually an improvement over the 11-1 standing in the 2007 Worlds and 11-0 in the 2008 Olympics.
In synchronized swimming, formerly an American strong suit, Russia, China and Spain – in that order – now own the sport, and won seven medals to none for the U.S. Happily for the American side, there are only two synchro events in the Olympics, and China will medal in both.
In water polo, the U.S. won one medal at the 2007 Worlds and two silvers in the Olympics, but nothing this year in Shanghai. The Chinese won one medal.
Add it all up and in Olympic events only, the 33-13 American edge from 2007 is now just 26-25, a drop from +20 to +1 for the U.S., and probably enough to ensure a drop to second place on the medal table in 2012.
However, there are a couple of factors which could result in better results for the USA:
(1) Unlike in 2007, the 2011 World Aquatics Championships were held in China, where strong crowds pushed the Chinese to excellent performances, especially in swimming. China won’t have the home-pool advantage it enjoyed this year and in 2008.
(2) The American team did well, and 16-year-old Missy Franklin emerged as a star on the women’s side who could have a major impact in 2012. Moreover, the U.S. Olympic team won’t be selected based on this year’s results, but on who wins out at the Olympic Trials meet in Omaha, to be held just three weeks prior to the Games. That team should be better than this year’s Worlds squad.
For the American track & field team looking ahead to the 2011 Worlds in Daegu, South Korea beginning August 27, the story is similar to swimming. At the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, the U.S. piled up 26 medals to three for China and in the 2008 Olympic Games, the differential was 23-2.
However, unlike swimming, where the Chinese showed major improvements in the pool in the 2009 Worlds, the U.S. again enjoyed a huge advantage in the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, out-medaling China, 22-4, in a meet which was not considered to have been a particularly strong one for the U.S.
As it turns out, former USA Track & Field chief executive Doug Logan may have been a prophet. It may take a “Project 30″ effort in both swimming and track to keep America on top.
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