Great leap forward ends at the medal dais

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The Independent Online

Michael Phelps is making history in the pool, but even he will be overshadowed by a tidal wave that will sweep his American team from the top of the Olympics medal table.

China has already made a great leap forward in the medal count, and no one expects it to be overhauled.

The Chinese have set about picking the Americans off around the fringes, collecting medals in sports that are stuffed into community halls in between the Olympics. Thousands of Chinese sports schools have done the trick, turning the talented kids with extreme perseverance into world champs. After years of dragging their way up the table, the great dragon is breathing a firestorm.

This, according to some, is a despicable political leadership flexing its muscles, showing its might, parading a newfound wealth and place in the world, winning an image war, and readying to invade our wonderful lives. Be afraid. Watch out world.

But, in the long run, does winning the medal count or medals change anything beyond who gets their face on the cornflakes boxes?

East Germany used to have a pretty nifty Olympic programme, but everybody knew that's about all it had. The old Soviet Union cleaned up at the Olympics but do you know anyone who wanted to go and live there?

Romania's ruthless attitudes produced one of the most enchanting and brilliant Olympic athletes in Nadia Comaneci but the world knew her country was a totalitarian hole.

America does great at the Olympics, but only a knucklehead would believe all that baloney about it being the land of the free where everyone can live their dreams.

As for the much-discussed Berlin Olympics of 1936, Adolf Hitler and his fellow scumbags were always going to do what they did, and the world's response was hardly altered by a bit of sprinting and javelin throwing. I know that it is often written, at great length, that those Games were used to fire a mad German patriotism. But are we to believe that had this weird sports festival represented a Teutonic tumble, Hitler would have packed up and opened a sausage stand?

Governments may believe they can fool the masses with a flashy ceremony and a chest full of medals. But they don't change what already lies within.

Did those East Germans who longed to be reunited with their families in the West think to themselves: "I miss Uncle Wolfgang, but it's okay because at least Hilda Obenrach just won her third Olympic shot put title"?

To listen to some commentators, you'd almost believe that the world is going to fall over because China has produced little girls who are good at diving into a pool.

It's actually all the little girls stitching fancy sneakers and living on a shoestring who are having the major affect on the course of history.

Furthermore, the distressing events being played out between Russia and Georgia were going to happen whatever went on in Beijing.

Just as we know that the world has been full of evil regimes and those which aren't so bad, we also know that governments don't reflect the hopes and dreams, the attitudes and behaviours, and the daily lives, of all their citizens.

When it comes to the masses, the Olympic Games (and all other sport) have had virtually no effect on their lives other than to offer the joy and disappointments of competitive sports watching and participation.

Further still, any countries that place an over-importance on winning Olympic medals should be viewed as highly suspect, because it suggests they need this fool's gold to cover up their ills.

In saying this, what a great pity that, so far, there have been no human rights protest by athletes at these games. China is winning its clampdown on free speech, which is infuriating and by far the biggest blow to Western pride.

Yet it would take more than a bit of apparel tweaking to make a difference. Chinese regimes don't change their minds because a few people decide to wave the colour orange.

The real beneficiaries of Olympic power are those mega-corporations who use them to further indoctrinate the crowds. Maybe the growth of a rich middle class in China will be the force that brings about vital changes. And if these Olympics are to have any effect, maybe it is the ability of these people to peep at life outside their borders that will help improve the lives of the oppressed.

But as for being effective political weapons, the Olympics are a lemon. Compared to other influences, they wouldn't even get in the final.

This story was sourced from The New Zealand Herald