We should take a moment to congratulate our Olympic Team. It pulled off the greatest victory in the history of the Summer Olympics. Plus what an Olympics it was. Here are a few reasons why.
1. From European to a Genuinely Global Olympics
When the modern Summer Olympics began in z1896, only 241 athletes competed from 14 countries. Most of them were from Europe. In 2016, the Summer Olympics had over 11,000 athletes representing all 193 members of the United Nations.
They also had International Olympic Committees (IOCs) for countries like Taiwan, which is not officially an independent country, but is de facto independent. Hong Kong also competes separately from China. Some U.S. territories, like Guam and Puerto Rico, competed independently as well. There were 207 International Olympic Committees in 2016, which is a record.
For the first two decades, the Summer Olympics was largely a European competition. It was only in 1952 that the Soviet Union competed for the first time. It was not until 1988 that the United States, the Soviet Union, and China would all face against each other in the same Olympics.
After the Olympics boycotts of 1976, 1980, and 1984, the number of nations participating has grown steadily. In 1980 only 80 countries and international Olympic Committees (IOC) went to the Summer Olympics in Moscow. Rio had 207 IOCs.
2. The Rise of Women Athletes
As the number of countries and athletes participating has increased over the years, the percentage of women participating has also gone up. The first time women competed was 1900 and they were only 2.2 percent of the participants. Women did not reach above 10 percent of athletes in the Summer Olympics until 1952 (10.5%), above 20 percent until 1976 (20.7%), above 30 percent until 1996 (34%), and above 40 percent until 2004 (40.7%).
The 2016 Summer Olympics broke the record, with 45 percent of all Olympic athletes being women. Another record broken was that 47.4 percent of all of the events in Rio were women’s events. The number of events in general has doubled from 150 in 1960 to 306 in 2016.
3. Olympics Records
Not only are there more athletes, but athletes only get better with each generation. The coverage of the Olympics has focused on Michael Phelps winning his 23rd Gold medal, and the dominance of U.S. Gymnastic Team, but it is more important to remember that they are the best in part because their competition has never been better.
Name any swimming record in the Summer Olympics, and it was broken in the last three games (2008, 2012, and 2016). In track and field events, with the exception of the Long Jump (American Bob Beamon, 1968), all of the records have been broken since the late 1980s and most of them in the 21st century. Whether it is the Summer or Winter Olympics, most of the records have been broken within the last 20 years.
It’s difficult to believe that there will ever be a basketball team in the Olympics better than the 1992 Dream Team, or a swimmer better than Michael Phelps, but they are exceptions to the rule. The competition has never been better. Records will only continue to broken.
The only time the Chinese beat the U.S. in the Olympics was in 2008. China won more Gold medals than the U.S. (51 to 36) that year, but the U.S. won more overall medals than China (110 to 100). Part of the reason the Chinese did so well was because the 2008 Summer Olympics were in Beijing. The host nation usually fields more qualifiers than usual. In 2008, China had 639 athletes competing while the United States only had 596 athletes.
Without the home advantage, the Chinese cannot compete with the United States. In 2012 London games, the U.S. qualified 530 athletes to China’s 396. In Rio, there were 554 Americans competing against 413 Chinese.
The competition between the U.S. and Russia defined the Summer Olympics for over 50 years. In 2016, the Russians fielded the smallest team in decades. In early August 2016, 111 of Russia’s 389 athletes were disqualified over a doping scandal. With 278 athletes, it is impressive that Russia still finished fourth. Russia remains a force to be reckoned with in the Winter Olympics, but it will not be able to beat the United States in the Summer Olympics for the foreseeable future. It will still be a top team, but it will not defeat the United States.
The 2016 Summer Olympics had over 11,000 athletes competing in the biggest Olympics ever. There has never been a competition with as many athletes, countries, and events as what we just saw at Rio. And how the United States prevailed.
Congratulations Team USA!