by Frank Li
London Olympics 2012 closed on August 12.
I spent numerous hours watching it, and enjoyed it more than any of the previous Olympics, thanks largely to the "Illinois Three" (Swimming, Olympics, and More). Better yet, they all won gold medals! So special congratulations to Conor Dwyer, Matt Grevers, and Tyler McGill! Great jobs in London! You made Illinois swimmers and parents proud!
Congratulations to Team USA for the outstanding performances and wonderful results, especially for winning the medal race against China!
1. The Olympics
The Olympics are great! Despite all the problems, from the past (e.g. 2002 Winter Olympic bid scandal) to the present (e.g. Olympics shot put champ stripped of gold for doping), the Olympics remain one of the best venues for world peace. This is particularly important today, when there are so many [armed] conflicts all over the world.
The Olympics are more than sports. Nothing speaks more powerfully than the photo on the left. For more, read: Olympics More Than Sports.
As a worldly person, you should have watched Olympics 2012. As an American, you should have paid attention to the medal table, which in itself was an Olympic race between the U.S. and China, not only this time, bus also over the past decade.
2. The U.S. vs. China at the Olympics
Here is a recent article in the Chicago Tribune (8/13/2012): Team USA back on top in gold, overall medals counts. Additionally, there was a full page to graphically depict "how U.S. topped China" at Olympics 2012.
A win is a win is a win. However, after celebrating the win "battle", we must face the reality that the U.S. may be losing the "war" ...
3. The overall medal race between the U.S. and China
Table 1 below shows the race over the past seven Olympics, from 1988 to 2012.
Table 1: The overall medals won by the U.S. and by China
The graph below visualizes Table 1 "horizontally".
The U.S. has been steady, with its overall medal count being around 100.
China has been rising rapidly, from 28 in 1988 to 88 in 2012.
Two pie charts below visualize Table 1 "vertically" for 1988 and 2012, respectively.
The size of the pie increased from 739 in 1988 to 962 in 2012.
China's share increased significantly from 3.79% in 1988 to 9.15% in 2012, an increase of more than 240%!
America's share actually decreased from 12.72% in 1988 to 10.81% in 2012.
4. Why has America's share decreased?
Three main reasons:
The rise of China.
The rise of the rest (vs. the West). For example, the athletes from the Caribbean countries (e.g. Jamaica) now dominate the sprinting events on the track (e.g. 100 and 200-meter dashes), while African athletes dominate in distance running (e.g. 800 meters and up). They are gaining their shares, mostly at America's expense.
5. Is it a big deal to lose shares?
No, it's not a big deal, if you think the Olympic medal count is merely a bragging right for a country. Yes, it's a big deal, if it mirrors the economies as follows:
Not only is the U.S. dominance over, the U.S. has actually been in a decline, with its share getting smaller over time.
China is rising rapidly, with no end in sight.
For the U.S., this time it's different: the Chinese are not like the East Germans or the Soviets a few decades ago. Specifically,
- The Chinese are for real. Behind China's Olympic medal count is the strength of its economy and a big wallet, stuffed with more than a trillion US dollars (and growing) as the U.S. debt to China.
- China's rise is sustainable, because China's system, overall, appears to be slightly better than America's system.
Consequentially, unless there is a change in the system on the U.S. side, the same trend will continue.
6. Understanding China better
It's not easy for Americans to acknowledge the unwelcome trend and understand the real reasons behind it, thanks to brainwashing in America (e.g. China's Gold Standard and Medals come at a cost). For example, China's Project 119 is often depicted as evil in the U.S. media (e.g. While China is busy winning, its athletes might be losing), but it is actually an open secret behind China's success!
With the awarding of the Games of the XXIX Olympiad of 2008 to Beijing in 2001, the government of China embarked on a program to increase its medal load. Project 119 was established to gain medals in the sports of Track and Field, Swimming, Rowing & Canoe/Kayak and Sailing. These sports had a total gold medal count of 119 in the 2000 Summer Olympics. At those Games, China had only won one medal in all these sports. China wished to finish on top of the medal count and gold medal total at its own games.
To me, Project 119 was brilliant. After all, I did a similar "project" for my two sons: I carefully studied several sports in the sports frantic America, and strategically chose swimming as their sport (before they became obnoxiously rebellious), which worked out very well (The Battle Hymn of The Tiger Dad).
Now, for those Americans who still don't feel a sense of urgency, let's look at the race for the gold medals ...
7. The gold medal race between the U.S. and China
Table 2 below shows the race for the gold medals between the U.S. and China:
Table 2: The gold medals won by the U.S. and by China
The graph below visualizes Table 2 horizontally. As you can see, the race for the gold is even closer than that for the overall, with China being on the top once already in 2008!
China's share increase in gold becomes even more striking than in overall when Table 2 is visualized vertically with two pie charts below for 1988 and 2012, respectively.
The size of the pie increased from 241 in 1988 to 302 in 2012.
China's share significantly increased from 2.07% in 1988 to 12.58% in 2012, an increase of more than 600%!
The U.S.'s share increased slightly from 14.94% in 1988 to 15.23% in 2012.
Sports are a big deal in the U.S., and it's a good thing (Parenting in America: 25 Years Back and 25 Years Ahead), although commercial sports are becoming more and more questionable nowadays (e.g. Penn State Hit with $60 Million Fine).
China may never surpass the U.S. as the kingdom of sports. But China is destined to win more medals than the U.S. in the coming [Summer] Olympics, in both the gold and overall. Why? It's the system, stupid! There is a system in China for winning more and more Olympic medals. But there is no such system in the U.S., only the massive talent and a lot of potential for personal gains, which eventually will prove inadequate against the Chinese system and the Chinese "machines" (e.g. diving).
I predict China will win more medals than the U.S. in the [Summer] Olympics by 2030, when China's economy will surpass the U.S. economy. I can even predict where the biggest difference will be made between now and 2030: swimming! Three reasons:
There are a lot of medals in swimming!
Unlike track & field, swimming is a sport for which the Chinese can be hopeful. I reached this conclusion in 1997 when I enrolled my two sons in competitive swimming (The Battle Hymn of The Tiger Dad), and I stand by this conclusion today.
America, you have been forewarned ...
The Olympic medal count is a big deal, but the economies are far bigger deals. Amazingly, they seem to go hand in hand. Potentially, we have the same solution for both of them: Since Mitt Romney saved one Olympics (2002 Winter Olympics) already, maybe he can save America too. Let's give him a chance. For more, read: Mitt Romney vs. Deng Xiaoping.
About the Author
Frank Li is the Founder and President of W.E.I. (West-East International), a Chicago-based import & export company. Frank received his B.E. from Zhejiang University (China) in 1982, M.E. from the University of Tokyo in 1985, and Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in 1988, all in Electrical Engineering. He worked for several companies until 2004, when he founded his own company W.E.I. Today, W.E.I. is a leader in the weighing industry not only in products & services, but also in thought and action.