The Significance of the U.S.'s Slump-Breaking Medal Haul

Sportswriters scramble to explain the larger meaning of America's Olympic dominance

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As the Winter Olympics wind down, the United States is clinging to an unfamiliar position: king of the medal race. Barring a last-minute comeback from Germany, the U.S. will own the podium (sorry, Canada) for the first time since 1932.

The historic haul has raised a debate among sportswriters: What is the significance of the U.S. winning the most medals?

  • Proves We're Not in Decline The Wall Street Journal touts the performance as a shining example of American exceptionalism, mixing in a shot at the president in the process.

It's popular to read broader geopolitical meaning into Olympic results. While this time America can exult, Russians especially seem miffed about their relatively poor results in Vancouver. We tend to think the results reflect individual triumphs, but we also don't mind if the results shake the view among some U.S. elites that we're in decline. We also hope President Obama doesn't feel he has to apologize.

  • Vindication for U.S. Athletes Comparing the U.S. Olympic situation to Lord of the Flies, Sports Illustrated's Selena Roberts heaps accolades on American athletes for excelling despite a dysfunctional United States Olympic Committee. "Instead of following the book and deteriorating into chaos, the U.S. Olympians governed themselves in so many ways," she praises. "In a bad economy, many relied on their own resourcefulness when their endorsement deals dried up, USOC budgets tightened and Home Depot ended its Olympic jobs program for athletes."  
  • The New Winter Olympics Juggernaut? Bleacher Report's Sam Kline says the U.S. is poised to follow in the U.S.S.R.'s footsteps and become the next Winter Olympics dynasty. "One can sense a changing of the guard in terms of an era of hegemony. Ample resources and historical world events have elevated the United States to don the crown as the new Evil Empire of the Winter Games."
  • Let's Count Those Medals Again Not everyone is gushing over the U.S.'s medal haul, and some bloggers have unveiled medal-counting formulas that don't favor America. The Daily Beast factors in population and financial resources and bumps the U.S. to third. True/Slant's MP Nunan also demotes America to bronze and adds: "So maybe, it’s not about the medal count in the end. It’s how you play the game."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.