China, Russia Down; UK Up: The United States tallied their 100th medal of the Rio Games last night, coming within a couple of exceeding the combined total of China and Russia. In Beijing in 2008, the host Chinese came within ten total medals of of the Americans, an incredible rise in accomplishment from finishing with just less than half the U.S. count of 101 just eight years earlier in Atlanta. Following the surge in medals for the Chinese in their own country and then in London in 2012, they appear to have fallen back to more historical levels. Great Britain as well is seeing better counts following their host status, currently sitting in third place.
Is there more to this than simply normal fluctuations in performance levels? Was there more behind the success of China than just an increased emphasis spurred on by being the host nation? Given the doping and other performance enhancing drug (PED) revelations of the past several months, I believe there is a good chance that there is. These games aren't over yet, but if the trend continues to their conclusion, with the exception of Russia, the medal totals will look very much as they did in Athens in 2004. In that year, the U.S. led with 101, followed by Russia with 90, China (63), Australia (50), Germany (49), Japan (37), France (33), Italy (32), Great Britain and South Korea (30). Currently, the standings are U.S. (100), China (58), Great Britain (56), Russia (44), Japan (37), France (34), Germany (32), Australia (27), Italy (24) and South Korea (18). The major movers are Great Britain to the positive and Russia to the negative. Obviously, Russia was going to take a hit with their track and field athletes banned from Rio, but that just helps make my case. Of their 90 medals in Athens, 19 came from athletics, accounting for less than half their deficit in Rio.
What's interesting here is that the main beneficiary of the medal count shift is not the United States, but rather Great Britain. The point could be made that PED's, while helping to make a middle of the pack competitor compete for a medal, may not be a full replacement for training and raw ability. I'm neither a scientist nor a sports performance expert, but I'm pretty good at analyzing numbers and statistics to come to a conclusion. This isn't to say that athletes in countries other than Russia aren't using PED's. We need to look no farther than Marion Jones, Lance Armstrong, half of major league baseball and any number of NFL players for substantiation that PED use pervades any number of sports on global basis. But it appears from the numbers that perhaps their use in the Olympics has been discouraged and hopefully curbed to the extent that what we have seen in Rio is legitimate competition that is not affected by chemical substances.
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