[Viewpoint] The guns of London 2012Let’s stop being naive. The London Olympic Games is not a religious event. It’s no different from a war, except that you’re not hearing any gunfire. Instead of rifles and swords, the athletes are fighting each other with their bodies and determination, and they shed tears instead of blood.
In this war, national athletes are fighting in place of soldiers. They wear uniforms bearing national flags and they fight on national teams. The people in their home countries share their joys and furies. It’s an exercise in restoring a nation’s identity. And the nationalism it fuels sometimes erupts like a volcano.
The Olympic Games are wars because they represent national power. Not just economic power, but all of a nation’s power including the devotion and will of its athletes and their coaches, as well as the people supporting them back home.
The statistics of medal wins in past Olympic Games are proof. The United States won 929 gold medals until the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. In total, the superpower won 2,296 medals.
Its former rival Russia won 1,333 medals, including 504 gold medals. Germany came in third. Including its wins from East Germany, it won 1,260 medals, including 390 gold.
China, now striving to become No. 1, has won 385 medals including 163 gold medals. That is far lower than the records of England and France. England won 715 medals including 207 gold and France won 637 medals including 191 gold.
The number of China’s medals shows the country’s modern history, which went from colonial ordeal to successful modern reform.
Korea won 215 medals, including 68 gold, the third in Asia. Japan won 360 medals, including 123 gold.
The bestowing of an Olympic medal is an event through which the international society recognizes a country’s national power.
But it is never easy. Of the 204 countries that have national Olympics committees, only 84 managed to win any gold medal whether it is from a winter game or a summer game.
Another 80 countries have earned no medal, and most of them were small, poor countries. Gabon, which scored a tie with Korea in the soccer preliminary of the London Olympic Games, is one of the 80.
Medals cannot be bought. Oil-rich Bahrain, which had an over $23,000 gross domestic product per capita in 2011, scouted Rashid Ramzi from Morocco to win a gold medal. He came in first place in the 1,500 meters at the Beijing Olympic Games, but his gold medal was taken away for doping.
To win a medal, the spirit of sports has to be respected. And that spirit is also a part of a nation’s power.
India, the ninth-largest economy in the world, has made enormous efforts to win a gold medal. The country has participated in the Olympics since 1900, when it was a British colony.
So far, it has won eight gold medals and all of them by men’s field hockey teams. From the 1980 Moscow games until the 2008 Beijing games, it has failed to taste gold.
The frustration led to Lakshmi Mittal, the chairman of the world’s largest steel maker, ArcelorMittal, to donate $9 million to support the athletes. With the money, 10 athletes were educated and India managed to win a gold medal in the 10-meter air rifle for the first time in 28 years in 2008.
Olympic medals are about a country’s honor, and the people who live away from their homelands know this better than others.
Olympic Games are different from war because they allow you to see a country’s national prestige as well as its power. No matter how many medals a country wins, an athlete who is too obsessed with money and victory and fails to respect sportsmanship will manage to disgrace his or her homeland.
In contrast, an honorable athlete heightens his or her homeland’s pride and standing in the world at large.
During the match on Tuesday, Kim Jae-bum defeated Germany’s Ole Bischof in the final round of the 81-kilogram match and brought home the gold. Despite his defeat, the audience gave strong cheers for Bischof as if he won.
During the semifinal, he gave a deep bow to his injured American opponent to console and comfort him. And after the final match, he hugged Kim and congratulated him on his victory. Bischof’s Twitter account was flooded with support messages from fans around the world, and particularly from Korea.
After winning his gold medal for men’s under 90 kilogram-category, Judoka Song Dae-nam also gave a deep bow to his coach and the audience gave him a standing ovation. There is no national border for the spirit of fair play and respecting an opponent, a rival team and their coaches.
The Olympic Games are also critically different from war because everyone becomes one after the matches. That is the charm that makes us stay up summer nights every four years.
* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Chae In-taek