Amidst the understandable UK media attention to the great performances of Team GB there has been little comment on the titanic struggle at the top of the Medals Table between the USA and China. China spent most of the Games just ahead, though faltered at the end compared to the USA. Doubtless China was not expecting a crushing victory over the USA on the scale of Beijing, when China won 51 Gold medals to 36 by the USA, with the benefit of home advantage and the massive effort she put into doing well as host nation. This year is however important. It reminds us all that China is now the serious and established challenger to the US in sport. There have only been two teams in the competition to lead the Medals table from the beginning. This has come to represent a wider truth, in the economy and world politics.
Olympic Games should be a celebration of sport and its ability to unite peoples from a wide range of countries and cultures to enjoy together a shared passion. However, there is often a political message or undercurrent, intensified by the convention that people represent their country and display their flags with pride.
The political message of the 1936 Games in Germany that Germany was the power to be reckoned with, was challenged by the stunning victory of Jesse Owens from the USA in the 100 metres. The unexpected victory of Abebe Bikila, a late entrant from Ethiopia, in the Marathon at the 1960 Rome Games also told a political story. Legend has it that he surged to victory from the obelisk taken from his homeland by the Italian fascist government during their period of occupation of his country. Running barefoot made the story more poignant and more remarkable.
In “Superpower Struggles” published in 2005 I argued ” The EU has its global pretensions, but is unlikely to emerge as a superpower….A much more effective competitor to the US….is rising in the Far East…” “There was no more magnificent image of China joining the first world… than the Chinese Grand Prix, held for the first time in 2004….China will make an even more dramatic statement to the world when she unveils the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.” I charted her economic rise, predicting rapid moves into second place by the second decade of this century.
Much of this has now happened. London 2012 should serve to remind us whilst we still live in an American led world, the challenger to the US is now primarily China, as an economy, as a sporting nation, and in due course as a military power.