China has proved an acquisitive first-time Olympic host, topping the gold-medal chart with one of the most dominating and diverse performances ever. The U.S., Britain and other countries also had reasons to celebrate.
China's achievement of 51 gold medals was the largest since the Soviet Union won 55 in Seoul in 1988. Fielding athletes groomed since childhood in sports academies; it won medals in 25 different sports, including its first ever in sailing, beach volleyball and field hockey. Not since 1936, when Nazi Germany prevailed at the Berlin Olympics, had a country other than the U.S. or the Soviet Union (Russia) led the gold medal list.
The U.S. trailed well behind the Chinese in golds with 36; the first time since 1992, it did not lead the category. However, the Americans did break their own mark for total medals in a non-boycotted Olympics; they won 110 in all, 2 more than their previous high set in 1992 and 10 ahead of China's overall tally this year.
On the other hand, Britain, getting an early jump on its host role for the 2012 Summer Games, had its best Olympics in a century with 19 gold medals, excellent for fourth place behind the Russians. Its sailors and cyclists were the class of the field, and 19-year-old Rebecca Adlington stunned the swimming world with two golds in distance events.
It was also an exciting and satisfying Olympics for most of the world's weaker sporting countries. A record 87 countries won medals, seven more than the previous high in Sydney in 2000, and a dozen countries won either their first-ever gold medal or first medal of any color.
Unfortunately, Russia was a prominent loser at this Olympic event, whose team was deprived of 10 athletes due to doping accusations. The Russians completed a distant third in both gold medals, with 23, and overall medals with 72, down from 27 and 92 four years ago in Athens. Yet, Japan and Germany also fared noticeably worse than in Athens.
According to Peter Ueberroth, U.S. Olympic Committee chairperson, China has been systematically targeting every single available medal, and U.S. team has to do that in the future. Moreover, he added, the resources that Chinese have put toward their Olympic team, the population base and the dedication is extraordinary. That is why so difficult for the rest of the world to compete. However, that is the way it should be.
Undeniable, China has the largest population pool, not less than 1.3 billion people, from which to recruit athletes. Several far smaller nations distinguished themselves in medals per capita.
With a population of 21.4 million, Australia won 46 medals, one for each 465,000 people. Cuba won 24 medals, one for each 470,000 of its 11.3 million citizens. IN addition, Jamaica's sprinters and hurdlers, led by triple-gold sensation Usain Bolt, won 11 medals, one for every 245,000 of its 2.7 million people. Unfortunately, populous countries with no medals included the Philippines, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
On the other hand, Kenya, despite election-related unrest which killed hundreds and disrupted its preparations, had a great games with 5 gold medals and 14 medals overall. Ethiopian runners Tirunesh Dibaba and Kenenisa Bekele each won rare double golds in the 10,000 and 5,000. In addition, overall, Africa won 40 medals, which is the most ever. Those included the first-ever Olympic medals for Togo in canoeing, Mauritius in boxing, and Sudan in the 800 meters. Also winning first-ever medals were Tajikstan, Bahrain (a gold by Rachid Ramzi in the men's 1,500), and war-torn Afghanistan.
Amazingly, Tuvshinbayar's medal triggered raucous celebrations in Mongolia's capital, Ulan Bator, and a presidential decree declared him a "hero of Labor." Moreover, there were other breakthroughs, South Korea and Tunisia won golds in swimming for the first time; long jumper Maurren Higa Maggi became the first Brazilian women to win gold in track.
The Official Website of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games
Overall Medal Standing
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