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Opinion: Time to scrap Olympic medal table


What should count more, gold medals or total medals? The answer is neither, because judging success with a medal table is questionable and promotes nationalism, says DW sports editor Sarah Wiertz.

The battle for supremacy in the Olympic medal table is a discipline in its own right.

On the final day of the Tokyo Olympics, the United States surpassed China with its 39th gold medal, one more than the People's Republic. But the USA counts differently anyway, putting more stock in the total medal count — which far exceeds that of China.

The medal table is undignified and should be abolished from the Olympics. Medal rankings only reflect output, which should not be the only measure of success. It promotes state-directed doping and rewards nations that pump lots of money into sports.

DW sports editor Sarah Wiertz

If the number of medals were put in relation to the population and gross domestic product of a country, completely different nations would be at the top — Jamaica, the Bahamas or Kosovo, for instance.

The medal count embodies the Olympic idea of striving for top performance, but it comes at the expense of other Olympic values: overcoming national narcisism for the common celebration of sport and contributing to peace and national understanding.

In fact, the opposite of those values occurs, with some nations using the medal table to demonstrate their power and strength and underpin their political structures with the help of successful athletes. Medals are celebrated as achievements of national importance. The rankings may even, in certain circumstances, reinforce nationalism, leading to explosive political discourse and personal tragedies.

China's mixed table tennis team tearfully issued a public apology for "only" winning the silver medal. "We let the team down," said Liu Shiwen, while Xu Xin added: "The whole country was watching this final. I think the Chinese team will not accept the result."

The pressure on Chinese athletes that comes from the country's aspirations has arguably never been greater, and the burden of expectations is unlikely to ease for them with six months to go until the 2022 Winter Olympics, which will be held in Beijing.

Tokyo 2020: The best moments of the Olympic Games
Sharing the love

In one of the game’s most touching moments, Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim and Italy's Gianmarco Tamberi agreed to share the gold medal. Both had been inseparable and unable to clear 2.39 meters after two hours of the high jump final. Barshim inquired to an Olympics official whether the medal could be shared — the answer was yes.

Tokyo 2020: The best moments of the Olympic Games
Skateboarding makes memorable debut

Skateboarding captured the imaginations of millions on its debut. While the medal winners such as local star Yuto Horigome should be celebrated, the good vibes around both the men’s and women’s competitions stole the show. No egos, no tantrums, just good times and a refreshing supportive atmosphere.

Tokyo 2020: The best moments of the Olympic Games
Fastest Person in the World shock

An Italian? Yep, Lamont Marcell Jacobs took over Usain Bolt's mantle to win the men's 100-meter final. The little-known former long jumper shocked everyone to win gold, ahead of Fred Kerley and Andre De Grasse.

Tokyo 2020: The best moments of the Olympic Games
Biles bows out gracefully

Simone Biles could have realistically taken home five golds at the Olympics. But her mistake during the vault in the team final led to her withdrawing from five of her six events and taking leave to protect her mental health. Biles, who has been the face of gymnastics since winning four golds in Rio in 2016, stayed with her team and returned to the mat to win a bronze in the balance beam final.

Tokyo 2020: The best moments of the Olympic Games
Prolific in the pool

Caeleb Dressel was the star in the pool. Six different events, 12 total swims, record-breaking times and five gold medals. By winning gold in five events at the Olympics, Dressel becomes the fourth male in history to achieve this feat. Here he is in action during the 100-meter butterfly. Australian Emma McKeon was similarly prolific in the pool, winning seven medals, including four gold.

Tokyo 2020: The best moments of the Olympic Games
Double double

The Sprinting Queen defended her 100-meter and 200-meter Olympic crowns in a sensational Jamaican double. Elaine Thompson-Herah has an icy relationship with her sprinting compatriots and rivals, but her relentless pursuit for victory took her back to her unbeatable best. She took home both golds. Again.

Tokyo 2020: The best moments of the Olympic Games
Felix makes history

American sprinter Allyson Felix won the first bronze of her storied career to make her the most decorated woman in Olympic track and field history. Felix has won six golds, three silvers, and now one bronze. It was also enough to tie her with Carl Lewis’ record of 10 Olympic medals. She also captured hearts thanks to affectionate interactions with her daughter, Camryn.

Tokyo 2020: The best moments of the Olympic Games
World record smashed

In astonishing scenes, Norway’s Karsten Warholm broke his own 400-meter hurdles world record to become the first man to run under 46 seconds. Silver medallist, American Rai Benjamin, also broke Warholm’s old record. Sydney McLaughlin, of the US, also broke the women's world record.

Tokyo 2020: The best moments of the Olympic Games
New Queen of the pool

Women's swimming has a new star after Australia's Ariarne Titmus stole Katie Ledecky's crown in both the 200-meter and 400-meter freestyle. Titmus's coach's hysteric reaction to the 400-meter win was beamed across the world. She also won silver behind Ledecky in the 800-meter, with the American also claiming the 1500-meter event.

Tokyo 2020: The best moments of the Olympic Games
Magic Zverev

Alexander Zverev enjoyed a milestone moment, overcoming Karen Khachanov in straight sets to win the men's singles gold at Tokyo 2020. Zverev produced some of the best tennis of his career in Japan, becoming the first German man to win singles gold in tennis.

Tokyo 2020: The best moments of the Olympic Games
Historic victory for Canada

Screams of elation as teammates flock to Julia Grosso after her winning penalty kick sealed gold for Canada in women's football. The team defeated the US, ranked number one in the world, in the semifinal before conquering Sweden on penalties. Quinn also became the first trans, non-binary athlete to win gold at an Olympic Games.

Tokyo 2020: The best moments of the Olympic Games
Tears of joy

Tears for Tom Daley as he finally ended his long wait for an Olympics gold medal. He made his diving debut at the age of just 13 in 2008, but had never managed to stand atop the podium. Alongside Matty Lee, he grabbed victory in the synchronised 10-meter platform. After 16 years, Daley can finally call himself an Olympics champion.

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