This country finds itself astonished, sitting second in the Gold Medal table of the Olympic Games. America, in first place with 26 gold medals, ought to have three times more on a population basis. China, in third place with the same number of gold medal as ourselves — 14 — ought to have 20 times more due to its immense population.
How has this happened? Answers include: 1. The Games are far from over yet. When all events are concluded, Britain will probably be a little further down the table; 2. Our success is probably a carry-over from the large government and lottery funds invested in athletic training prior to the 2012 London Games; 3. Statistical happenstance, rather like getting several heads in a row when tossing a coin.
But even those answers seem insufficient somehow. There’s also a background factor of culture — almost impossible to describe. Olympic gold medals are highly correlated with Nobel gold medals. It’s something to do with creativity — and, after all, almost all the sports in the Games were first developed in England in the 19th century whether by the social elite — e.g. skiing — or from the working class — e.g. soccer.
If it’s a matter of culture more than anything else then we in this country had better hang onto to its subtleties — whatever they may be. We’ll not need them so much for future Olympic gold medals but more for maintaining a high degree of innovation vis-a-vis our competitors in the advanced countries and thus continuing to be able to trade with China which is becoming a monopolistic manufacturer of all physical goods.