Mike Wise: Hiding under the medal table

August 8, 2012

It’s become clear to me over the last, oh, two minutes that we are focusing on the wrong people and wrong nations at these Olympics. Gabby this, Lolo that. Usain in the membrane. I can’t take it anymore.

Even these heretofore defeatist British people, who lost their empire status years ago, are suddenly taking happy pills over their Queen’s birthday celebration and their Olympians’ greatest medal haul ever. They’ve already announced a September parade of their athletes at the Games for more self-affirmation. London calling? No. It’s London bawling. They’re all having a good Andy Murray cry. The sap is making me nauseous.

Meantime, many unsung, unheralded countries and living things are being slighted in favor of the greedy hype-mongers. It has to stop.

We haven’t even given it up for the real leaders in the race for World’s Greatest Sporting Nation That Wears Nikes and Adidas.

Sure, the United States and China are neck and neck in the “official” medal race, with 81 and 77 apiece. And Russia and host Britain, having its best Olympics ever with 48 medals, are right behind the superpowers.

But based on their gross national products, we knew coming in these countries would represent. Bringing the best-funded and largest athlete delegations does not make you superior; it just gives you more chances to win.

That’s why the only place to really gauge true sporting powers is medalspercapita.com, where you find out that Grenada, with one gold medal for 110,000 people; New Zealand, with 10 total medals and three gold; and Jamaica, Hungary and itty-bitty Slovenia, with four medals to show for just more than 2 million people, are actually leading the world in their medal haul directly proportionate to population.

If you grow up as a Kiwi or Slovi and your parents use the ol’ “It’s a one-in-a-million shot you’ll win an Olympic medal, so shut up and do your homework,” you respond, “No, Mom, it’s actually slightly better than a 1-in-400,000 shot.”

Now, if you row, swim or dressage for India, you need to do your homework because you have just a one-in-313 million chance to become an Olympic medalist. With just four medals to show for 1.24 billion people, children in New Delhi have a better chance of becoming a slumdog millionaire.

That’s why the United States is currently 41st (one medal per 5.6 million) and China is 59th (one medal per 24.5 million) in the accurate assessment of sporting prowess.

It’s why I’m also down on the Argentines. Forty million people and more than 1 million square miles of real estate, 12 days into the Games, gets you . . . one lousy bronze medal?!

Don’t cry for me, Argentina; cry for yourselves. You’re a sporting embarrassment. Stop raising so much beef and start raising real Olympians. Between three-pointers, can’t Manu Ginobili moonlight as a judoka or a trap-shooter?

Another underestimated Olympian: show ponies.

Japan’s Hiroshi Hoketsu, at 71, is the second-oldest Olympian ever. The equestrian rider actually “competed” in Tokyo in 1964. Billy Mills also competed in 1964, running 10,000 meters. Billy now has shin splints and a bad hip. Hiroshi never ran a foot. He is not seeing an osteopath every day. Why? Because he jumped on the back of a beautiful mare and said, “Giddy up” in Japanese.

For almost half a century, Hiroshi has inexplicably never been busted for using the same performance-enhancer at the Olympics: a horse!

And then the poor horse repeatedly gets thrown under the bus. For more than a century, our best equines are used as excuses, like J.R. Rider or Andray Blatche, for having bad chemistry and not winning.

Take this Nick Skelton cad from Britain, who at the tender show-jumping age of 54 missed out on medals Wednesday because his stallion Big Star finally missed a fence after being flawless for six rounds.

“He hasn’t touched a jump all week, and that was the worst time to hit one,” Skelton told the BBC Wednesday. “. . . He was unlucky. It wasn’t meant to be.”

Maybe Big Star got wise to the idea that Nick gets the gold and stallions gets stiffed — along with Ann Romney’s Rafalca and every other horse in the competition.

Giving medals to the riders instead of the horses is like giving medals to the ribbons instead of the rhythmic gymnasts.

We in the American media are trying to do our part to tear down the popular people and hoist up the nobodies.

Every day, for instance, the U.S. media gets around a table and draws straws, asking, “Who will make Lolo Jones cry today with their mean-spirited prose?” Every day my colleague Jere Longman of the New York Times somehow wins. Lolo cries, feels bad about her Olympic experience and we all get to sleep better.

We should also salute the Olympians who didn’t make it: those forlorn Frisbee golf players, lawn-dart throwers and bocce specialists left on the outside looking in while beach volleyball, badminton specialists and little ingrates on BMX bikes get to pretend to be Olympians.

Memo to women’s beach volleyball exec. committee: If both your three-peat gold medalists have been around long enough to carry both their maiden and married names, it’s probably not a legitimate competition.

Cameroon’s missing athletes also deserve more praise. Team officials are concerned they have defected and will claim asylum, which is serious business. But let’s not overlook the wonderful example they are setting. Did you notice five of the seven who disappeared from the Olympic Village the other day were boxers? Perhaps someone should keep an eye on the U.S. men boxers, who failed to medal for the first time at an Olympics.

I’d like to also take a minute to address the countries that haven’t yet medaled, which represent more than half of the Olympic teams. You tried your best. You held firm the beliefs of Baron de Coubertin , the Game’s modern founder, who believed not in winning but giving it your all.

You are still losers. Win something or get lost. These are Visa, Coca-Cola and Phil Knight’s Olympics, baby, where the motto is, “You don’t win silver; you lose gold.”

Or if you’re Argentina, you just take bronze and share that one measly medal with 40 million cattle farmers.

For previous Mike Wise columns, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post.
SECTION: {section=sports, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=3, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: {allow_comments=true, allow_photos=false, allow_videos=false, comments_period=14, comments_source=washpost.com, default_sort=, default_tab=, display_comments=true, is_ugc_gallery=false, max_items_to_display=15, max_items_to_display_top=3, moderation_required=false, stream_id=}!!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=3, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Comments
SECTION: {section=sports, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=3, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: {allow_comments=true, allow_photos=false, allow_videos=false, comments_period=14, comments_source=washpost.com, default_sort=, default_tab=, display_comments=true, is_ugc_gallery=false, max_items_to_display=15, max_items_to_display_top=3, moderation_required=false, stream_id=}!!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=3, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Show Comments
Most Read Sports
Stats, scores and schedules