Changing China

Giant on the move

If Michael Phelps were to declare independence

August 14, 2008

This is a long shot, I know, but if Michael Phelps suddenly decided to break away from the United States and declare himself a sovereign nation, he’d currently be joint-fourth in the medals table at the Olympics — level with the U.S.

A glance to the right of this blog will show China leading with 20 golds and the U.S. second on 10. Phelps has won, or helped win five of those and with three more in his sights over the last few days of the swimming he could take his personal tally to eight.

That would put him out on his own in second.

Phelps, of course, would have to re-swim the relay races, completing each leg himself, but the way he’s going at the moment you wouldn’t put anything past him.

It’d be interesting to hear what he’d go for as a national anthem. How about some of the hip-hop he listens to all the time? A bit of Young Jeezy would liven up the medals ceremonies quite a bit…

(With a large tip of the hat to Karolos Grohmann, sat here next to me)


Haha, I love that idea!


I’m going to suggest it to him at tomorrow’s press conference

Posted by Kevin Fylan | Report as abusive

That’s a cute notion, but I’m a little distressed that you’ve bought into the Chinese metric of success. Four years ago, the Chinese looked at the standings after the
Olympics, and realized that although the United States held an insurmountable lead in the medal count, its lead among gold medals alone was much narrower. And so, they set up a specialized project aimed at winning gold medals, so that they might claim to have “won” the Beijing Olympics.

I don’t begrudge the authorities or the athletes their remarkable success. The rapid rise of Chinese Olympics is, on the whole, an inspirational story, and ought to provide hope for so many rising nations that have not previously enjoyed such success (and that holds true despite occasional abuses, and China’s decision to cheat in gymnastics.)

But the notion that gold medals alone define success is without historical precedent. It’s never been used as the measure of Olympic success. And although it may make the Chinese feel triumphant (and that’s a good thing – they’ve earned it) I don’t see any reason why the rest of the world should now adopt that standard, and trample on the accomplishments of the hundreds of other medalists in these games. Winning silver or bronze remains a notable accomplishment – many nations and innumerable athletes would burst with pride at winning just one medal, of any variety.

So Phelps, on his own, has five medals. Or actually, just three, because he relied on his team of compatriots for two of those. And that, in turn, means that Phelps would be tied for 14th or 22nd.

Just because the Chinese say something repeatedly does not make it so.

Posted by Cynic | Report as abusive

Hey,Cynic, I like your argument,but what does China say repeatedly?

And—”and China’s decision to cheat in gymnastics.)”


Posted by Gang | Report as abusive

Hi Cynic. I’m not sure if it’s a particularly Chinese way of presenting the medals table. It looks about right to me, anyway. I would have thought 20 golds deserves a place in the table ahead of 10 golds, no matter what the total numbers.
And I take your point about the relays. I’m assuming the Phantastic Mr Phelps could win them all on his own, and look forward to a hero’s welcome to Phelps Avenue, Phelpstown in the state of Phelpsota, Phelpsland.

Posted by Kevin Fylan | Report as abusive

First, I do not begrudge any olympian. Simply qualifying alone is a great enough achievement let alone winning a medal of any kind.

In the 1964 Olympics when USA was overall winner, the Soviet Union had 96 medals versus USA’s 90 medals. But USA had 36 gold medals vs Soviet Union’s 30 golds.

So IF China manages to pip USA for overall title through gold medals, it will certainly not be unprecedented and perfectly normal.

I’m sure the Americans weren’t complaining then…

Posted by Five Times | Report as abusive

Kevin: I’ll allow that it’s a worthwhile debate, and that tradition (in this case, overall count) ought not be slavishly followed. Perhaps the medal tables ought to be computed in a fashion that weights the gold-medal performances – any sports fan understands how such systems work. It could, for example, award three points for a gold, two for a silver, one for a bronze. That would leave China at the top of the list, but would seem to reflect the performance of other nations far more accurately. The problem here is that since the IOC resolutely refuses to acknowledge that nations, and not just athletes, are competing in these games, it has failed to establish a common standard for gauging success. It’s not a new problem; it arises every two years. British media sources, in this olympics, have typically tallied golds. The American media is using the overall tally. The media in most other nations typically use the tally in which they score best.

Gang: The problem in gymnastics, as reported by Reuters and other outlets, is that official state sources had repeatedly listed the three of the gymnasts on the gold-medal winning women’s team as being under the age of sixteen, and hence ineligible to compete. China produced passports improbably showing that they were, despite all other records to the contrary, just barely old enough. The Chinese team weighed, on average, thirty pounds less than the silver medalists, and also averaged several inches shorter. Teams are barred from using little girls in the event because of the lasting damage inflicted on their bodies, something the Chinese seem to have disregarded. It’s a disgrace, and it’s doubly regrettable because China has honestly triumphed in so many other sports, and because of the terrific gymnastic talent in China, which might well have been sufficient for them to win the gold medal honestly.

And i was alluding to China’s official “Project 119,” its four-year effort named after the number of gold medals available in the five most medal-laden sports. It’s not, of course, “Project 357,” because China decided not to focus on silvers and bronzes. They’ve been entirely explicit and straightforward both about the origins of this initiative – looking at the medal tables after 2004, and noticing the smaller gap in golds than in overall count – and their intentions.

Five Times: Although it’s true that “the Americans weren’t complaining then,” it’s also true that media coverage in the US of the 1964 Olympics was careful to specify that the American triumph came in the “gold medal count,” as distinct from the phrase “medals table” that Reuters chose to employ. The New York Times, for example, leavened its report on the gold-medal triumph by observing that “the Russians overcame the American lead in total medals and won that category.” In fact, over time, the overall medal tally has been the most consistent metric of Olympic success.

Posted by Cynic | Report as abusive

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