The European Union crushed the U.S.—and BRICs just may be a threat in Rio 2016.
The London Olympics are over, the torch is doused, the banner passed on to Rio. The National Health is service back to the drudgery of caring for its patients after its (unlikely) Opening Ceremony appearance, and the inevitable complaining about NBC's tape delayed coverage trumped (so far as the network is concerned at least) by remarkably high prime time ratings. And the final medal tables are out. The United States (104 total medals with 46 gold, 29 silver, 29 bronze) led the pack—not a bad showing for a country whose incipient decline or even imminent descent into third-world status is the stuff of current bestsellers, although the dominant showing of the Soviet Union in 1988 at Seoul was quickly followed not just by decline but disappearance. China (88 total, 38 gold, 27 silver, 23 bronze) and Russia (82 total, 24 gold, 26 silver, 32 bronze) followed trailed by surprising Great Britain (65 total, 29 gold, 17 silver, 19 bronze) and Germany (44 total, 11 gold, 19 silver, 14 bronze), now punching well below the weight of its one-time Cold War divided constituent parts.
But the tabulations of the golds and silvers and bronzes by country are certainly not the only—and perhaps not the best—way to look at the outcomes in globalized, "world is flat" 2012. So let's reshuffle the medal standings into some trans-national groupings and look at the results as if Olympic teams were organized this way, not that this will occur any time soon—or ever.
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What of the showings made more "relevant" and up-to-date multi-national entities? The Arab League and African Union (whose memberships somewhat overlap) would not make much of a mark in the medals tables if competing as units, with 33 medals (11 gold, 12 silver, 10 bronze) for the African Union and only 12 (2 gold, 3 silver, 7 bronze) for the Arab League. The 27-member European Union fares much better, with Great Britain, Germany, and France (a notably well balanced 34 total medals, 11 gold, 11 silver, 12 bronze) leading the way to a dominant overall EU haul of 305 medals—almost 150 ahead even of a mythically reconstituted Soviet Union and nearly three times that of the non-mythical United States—92 golds, 104 silvers, 109 bronzes. But before announcing that we are entering into a renewed European Era, limiting the tally to the 10-member Eurozone—which has, of course, carried the cause of a truly united Europe to its greatest extent, and paying a stiff economic price for doing so—reduces that result to 154 total medals (40 gold, 58 silver, 56 bronzes). And it has to be said that the ejection or withdrawal of Greece (2 bronzes) would hardly register on this Olympics balance sheet at all. And ditto Portugal (1 silver).
Finally, what of the "BRICS," the omnipresent (in punditry at least) specter of a Brazil, Russia, India, and China poised to overturn the Euro-centric economic order that has ruled the world ever since Vasco de Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1498? Well, Russia is holding its own and China is moving ahead, but India was a bust in London (6 medals total, 2 silver and 4 bronze) and Brazil (17 medals in all, 3 gold, 5 silver, 9 bronze) was no threat to the established sports world order. With the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio, perhaps a host country bounce will push Brazil up the medals tables. Added to Russia and China, a resurgent Brazil may yet make the BRICS an athletic force—assuming that anything can be expected from India.
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