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Opinion: Time to scrap Olympic medal table

08.08.2021

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.

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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.

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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.

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Biles bows out gracefully

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Prolific in the pool

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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.

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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.

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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.

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New Queen of the pool

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Magic Zverev

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Historic victory for Canada

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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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