We are living in the time of the medal table. It seems to be omnipresent. Examined, and pored over, and predicted and basked in the glow of. And of course we are third! I heard an analyst preeningly stating that in terms of medals per head of population we are absolutely the best. Well, that’s the thing with all those millions and millions of pesky Chinamen, always has been. Lots and lots of ‘em. So all those golds don’t really count it seems.
The medal tables of the modern Olympics tend to tell the story of which countries were vying to be the top dog of the day. And over the last hundred and twenty years this has basically meant which country is pumping cash and resources into trying to keep up with
With hindsight, when we put on the Games in 1908, the writing was already on the wall. Sure, a quarter of the world was painted red and the Empire was more or less at its height. So nobody would have been particularly surprised when we the hosts topped the medal table. We absolutely murdered the Americans with 56 golds to their 23. Sure the steelmills of
Pittsburgh and cotton mills of were already taking us to the
cleaners, but we could still look down our noses at the upstart colonial types
across the pond because when it came to Gold medals we did them 56-23. And when
it came to square miles of Empire they were a complete joke. We topped most
things back then. Nobody could have seen how many of the young men who stood on
those podiums would be end up hanging on the barbed wire of the trenches just a
few years later. West Virginia
In ‘Chariots of Fire’ we were thrilled to see our heroic amateurs of Empire putting one over the all conquering Yanks whilst Vangelis came up with the soundtrack which is now tannoyed out in the Olympic stadium when medals are hung around necks. The carnage of the Western Front had turned us into flat broke underdogs. And the film told no lies. By 1924 we had taken the road from top dog to underdog in a big way. Without the lads who were wiped out in the trenches we got absolutely smashed by the barnstorming Yanks. They beat us 45 – 9. Ouch.
In 36 Hitler made his big pitch on home turf of
and like us in
1908, he pushed the Americans back into second place. The strutting Austrian
corporal romped home with a 33-24 over the Americans. And like the Brits of 08
he must have felt that such a pile of medals was evidence that his Thousand
Year Reich was going to run its full course. Thankfully having his nose rubbed
in it by Jesse Owens was just a sneak preview of having that very same nose
rubbed in it at Berlin Stalingrad. Maybe there’s a
message coming through here. Lots of medals can give you a sense of
invincibility and end up in millions of dead guys? Maybe.
Hitler’s mayhem shut down the Games for a while and by the time bombed out
put the Games on again in 1948 everything had changed. The big World War winner
was once again London
and they topped the table by a country mile. Second on the list was America who kind
of proved that staying neutral in a World War is a smart play. Sweden
rubber stamped this idea by coming ninth. And Switzerland ? After all, the first time
we hosted the Games we came top of the pile and then we went on to win two
world wars. It must have meant something? Nope. We limped in twelfth with three
golds. At least we had enough young guys who were alive and kicking to raise a
team. Britain Russia and don’t
even appear on the list. Germany
And so came the Olympics of the Cold War where the Americans and the
Soviet Union threw the kitchen sink at
each other. There were 10 Olympiads between 56 and 92 and the Soviets topped
the table six times whilst boycotting the event once. This must have made them
think that the big dreams of Lenin and Stalin were well and truly on track. In in 1976 they
topped the table with 49 golds. But it was even better than that. The Montreal wasn’t even
second! Second on the list were the steroid pumped East Germans with 40 golds.
The States limped home with 34. The Soviet Block countries stormed to a grand total
of 120 golds. Jim Morrison’s statement in the ‘The End’ that ‘The West is the
Best’ seemed like a sad pipedream. The men in the Kremlin must have felt pretty
good about life back then. All the weapons they had poured into USA Vietnam had resulted in Uncle Sam’s greatest
humiliation on the roof of the Saigon Embassy in 75 and was sliding into a state of
apocalyptic anarchy. So what did the hard faced guys in the fur hats do? They
only went and invaded New York
didn’t they! I mean, talk about failing to learn the lessons of history on two
counts or what. Number one, never launch a big war on the back of topping the
Olympic medal table. Two, never invade Afghanistan . Well the might of the
Red Army was duly bled dry in the dry hills of Afghanistan Central
Asia. Just like the Brits on the Somme.
Just like the Germans on the steppes of . Russia
So business as usual was restored as the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave saw off yet another Empire. In 96 they were top dogs again beating the Russians by 44 to 26. The Brits by this stage were more or less a busted flush limping home 36th will just the one gold to our name. Thank god for Steve Redgrave. No wonder we knighted him. 2000 was much the same and the NeoCons in Washington took this as yet more evidence that Uncle Sam would be top dog forever and ever Amen. So did they learn a lesson or two from history? Course they didn’t. They only went and invaded
Iraq and didn’t they? And now? Well,
now there is another wannabe Empire on the block and it is now the Yanks and
Chinese who are scrapping for top dog status. Afghanistan
History might have a lesson or two for us here. Tell you what, if
China manage to
mirror their achievement in 2008 and come top again I wouldn’t much fancy my
chances if I lived in . Taiwan
What is really quite extraordinary is the fact that we Brits have managed to drag ourselves up from the nadir of 1996 to sit third in the table. It goes to prove that chucking money at the thing can pay off. In the last four years we have piled £26 million into our cyclists and by Christ have they ever come good. £27 million on rowing wasn’t a bad idea either. The Medal Table of today is something of a national relief. We don’t seem to be losers any more. Not only have we proved that we are still capable of doing something right, but we have won a few kilos of metal to boot. Our politicians are doing their best to bask in the reflected glory and the Union Jack is appearing in front gardens up and down the land. There is nothing like a taste of victory to make us all feel better about ourselves. The message from the great and the good is that we need to use this feel good factor to re-launch ourselves as a world player.
A few minutes with the history books might well prove to be time well spent. Thankfully our utterly exhausted army is in no way, shape or form in a fit state to invade anywhere though it would be rather nice if Cameron dispatched the SAS to Jersey, The Isle of Man, the Cayman Islands and the
British Virgin Islands and shut down all
the tax havens. Not very likely though.
Instead our great leaders will attempt to convince us that being third on the medal list is evidence that things are OK. Never mind the fact that one in five of our young people is on the dole. Never mind that the economy is sliding into the mire. Never mind that every year sees us slip down the league table for literacy and numeracy. Never mind that every year sees us climb the league table for addictions, grinding poverty and teenage pregnancy. Never mind any of that. We came third! Things can’t be that bad! Well sorry guys, but they can. Medal tables almost always lie. Just ask Mr Asquith, Herr Hitler and Comrade Brezhnev.
Basically we’ve done our doe. We’ve stuck £10 billion on the credit card and splashed it out on a two week party. And it has been quite a party. And we all know how things are after a great party. It’s a trashed house and a sore head and a drained out bank account.
Third is nice but the cracks under the paper just get wider and wider.