Medal tables are not just descending numbers of the Olympics – they tell stories of a country on the rise – or on the decline as the case may be – and point to trends that go beyond flaunt figures.
USA: The all-time leaders crossed yet another landmark – reaching a 1000 gold medals all-time. They in fact stand at 1020 currently. Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky, Simone Biles, Ryan Murphy were the gold collectors, it was the usual mother sports – athletics, swimming and gymnastics that kept the country on track. Boxing, tennis, wrestling, golf though seemed to have chipped in with fewer than they normally would.
Great Britain: They’ve been the story of the Games – the impetus received from London seeming to have carried forward to the next Games as well, with the unified islands notching up one medal (at the time of printing) more than London even – 66. The number of golds had dipped marginally though. Cycling and rowing in all fetched a third of those medals, prompting Gary Linekar to guffaw that them Brits were basically brilliant at “sitting on their arses.” The serious numbers trotted out of course have been how GB spent 5.5 mill GBP on each medal and the lottery system clicked. We like Linekar’s light take on it though.
China: The biggest non-story of the medal count. There’s been speculation for a while now that China has been slashing budgets spent on elite athletes and broadbasing the funds across the general population, worried about rising obesity in the country, though details on this are sketchy. At first glance, the serious dips have happened in gymnastics (down from 12 to 2 total) and badminton (down from 8 to 3). The economic slowdown was expected to hit spending on sport, but the slide has been drastic over the last four years as the overall tally’s dropped from 88 to 70 (golds 38 to 26).
Russia: 13 straight medals gone from London to Rio after the doping bans on the country’s athletics contingent. Russia is down overall from 77 to 56, though they’ve managed to retain their fourth position. Fencing’s picked up big time, sharing the top haul with wrestling.
Japan: They are ready for Tokyo, and how. It wasn’t just the 4X100 relay silver that’s been the surprise package for the 2020 hosts, who moved from 11th to 6th four years before they get cracking on their home Games. The country’s scouted out young, skilled talent in every sport from badminton to pistol shooting to rugby and of course athletics and gymnastics. They are the perennial shock team of rugby sevens now, and Tokyo will see a certain surge.
Brazil: Not like China or GB, Brazil didn’t really splurge on training their athletes like the previous two hosts, but their gold medals were emotionally valuable for a country that received a lot of bad press before the Games began. The football gold was joined by the second favourite team sport – volleyball, as the entire country watched rapturously and with bated breath as the top teams gunned for gold on successive days. Brazil added new medals in gymnastics and boxing gold as they jumped from 22 to 13 at their home games. The gold apart, nothing will ever match beach volleyball at Copacabana.