For the 2016 Summer Olympics, the New York Times made some beautiful charts displaying which countries have dominated which Olympic sports over time. You should really check out all the charts for yourself here, but just to make things easier here are two of them:
(My goodness was East Germany a sporting powerhouse during the Cold War, especially compared to West Germany, which had four times its population–16 million vs. 63 million in 1990!!!)
At the level of individual sports, the dominance of specific countries is even more clear-cut. Here’s the chart for the medals just in long-distance running events (the 5K, the 10K, and the marathon):
Ethiopia and Kenya nowadays account for well over half the medals in these sports, although that honor used to go to Finland (of all places) during the interwar period.
This relationship between sport and nationalism, about a country performing well on the international stage is important to a lot of people, which is why some governments are willing to spend $7.2 million in training and support for each Olympic medal their athletes bring home.
Entering into this potent mix of nationalism, money, and athletics are the new e-sports (about which I’ve written here previously and will again shortly). One thing that’s interesting thus far in the brief history of international e-sports competition is that it’s not the usual suspects bringing in the loot. Over-generalizing somewhat, the U.S. and Russia tend to be conspicuously absent from elite global tournaments, which are instead usually dominated by the South Koreans and the Chinese. Indeed, in the ongoing League of Legends Worlds 2017 tournament, for a remarkable *third* year in a row the two finalists are Korean teams, ensuring a Korean threepeat regardless of the outcome of the matches that will be played in the sold-out “Bird’s Nest” Olympic Stadium in Beijing on November 4th.
As my own just-updated-but-much-less-pretty-than-the NYT‘s graph shows, this isn’t because more Korean teams are qualifying for the World Championship, but rather because of simply outperforming teams from other countries during the tournament itself:
The last aspect of this story to consider is that the International Olympics Committee, with its finger in the wind, has just formally offered to consider e-sports for inclusion in the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics and beyond. Now, if I’m the next South Korean minister for culture and sports (not the one that was recently convicted of perjury as part of the corruption investigation into now-ousted President Park), I’ve got to figure that for a tiny fraction of the £350 million the British spent acquiring their medal haul in the Rio Olympics, I can simply lobby the IOC to include as many e-sports in future Olympics as possible. The medals should simply drop into my country’s lap, although only time will tell…