After the (Long) Jump

Japanese Volleyball Team comes home.

The London Olympics are over. Bring on the re-caps, re-plays and medal re-calls.  For the past few days, countries have been welcoming home their national champions, and the medal tallies and rankings are still making news. Interesting that the Nation medal rankings are based on the number of gold medals won, and not the total taken home. Just goes to show that only winning really counts.

Only 85 of the 205 participating countries walked away with medals. That’s a whole lot of deferred dreams. Think of all those athlete’s stories that we will never hear.

In the US, medalists are already on store shelves on cereal boxes, and being seen at red carpet events wearing their medals. This guy, who ate a pot brownie sometime before his judo match, is SO grounded and not going anywhere after his London trip though.

In South Korea, athletes got a massive reception, public ceremony and press conference at Incheon Airport, with an even bigger televised ceremony to come in Yeouido Park. The “Nice” Korea is sorting through the blunders of this Olympics, but pretty stoked on being 5th in the gold medal rankings.

The bittersweet homecomings are for the athletes who suffered career ending injuries during the games. Mongolian silver medalist in men’s judo, N. Tuvshinbayar is a national hero. He won gold in Beijing in 2008 and was expected to do the same this year, but destroyed his knee before he could claim the gold. Up against Russia, with Vladimir Putin in the audience, injured Tuvshinbayar still put up a fight, and became the first Mongolian athlete to win two Olympics medals. He came home in a wheelchair, and may never compete again. Mongolian athletes don’t end up with big sponsors and fancy training facilities, but if they bring home a medal they get cash prizes from the government. For silver, Tuvshinbayar got 60 million tugriks (about $44,000) and their bronze medalists and coaches got between 30 and 45 million tugriks.  The gold medals this year were made of gold from Mongolian mines, but none of it ended up coming back home.

Mongolians brought home 5 medals from London, making them 7th in the all-time rankings of Olympic medals per capita.  The US is 49th in that ranking, China is 74th, and Great Britain places 23rd. Biggest overall loser per capita at the London  Olympics, was host country Great Britain. The US took 6th place for biggest losers, and South Korea made it in that top 10 list as well.

There was an interesting piece from Al Jazeera about why the Olympics matter. (Did you know Nazi Germany introduced the torch relay ceremony AND team handball to the Olympics?) I think for 19 days it really does bring the world together. We get to see the faces and talents of the world. I am always amazed and overjoyed by the ethnic diversity of different nation’s teams – athletes and coaches. We hear stories of heroes we may never hear of again. The athletes are all busy getting it on cross-culturally at Olympic Village after-parties. It’s a big stew with international flavor. Despite the dark side of the Olympics, the corruption, the corporate ownership, the millions of plastic water bottles consumed by athletes  that will end up in the ocean, and the harm it does to local businesses and political activists, it still stands as one of the world’s great symbols of unity (despite all the disparity).

We’ve got two weeks until the Paralympics begin. Bring on the real stories of heroism and struggles against all odds, and nations coming together to bring each other up. Let’s watch and see what triumph really looks like. Unfortunately, we still have to look at that awful logo and terrible font…