An exercise in curiosity, with no scientific backing, and undertaken very much with topics of conversation for the next visit to the pub in mind.
London 2012 is the first Olympic Games in which every country represented has sent male and female athletes. There are those countries whose cultural and religious beliefs do not view men and women entirely as equals, and we must respect this. It did leave me wondering what sports would feature for these women on their maiden voyages into international sporting participation. Athletics, particularly the 100m sprint, features highly for Oman and the Yemen, each team with one female athlete apiece. Bahrain and Qatar each sent athletes for the longer distance running events (800m, 1500m, 5000m, 10 000m and the marathon) as well as a swimmer and a sport shooter each. Saudi Arabia also features track running athletes and a judo participant. Political asylum by individuals from neighbouring countries may be quite common, and it is worth noting that of these women, only two bore truly “home-grown” names, from my observation. These two just happened to be the shooter and the judo specialist. I wonder if that is something to do with the requirement that women participating in sport do so indoors, in an environment wherein men are not present, as must be the case if the burqa is removed. I may be entirely incorrect but it is possible that these women have entered their sport partly due to the possibility for participation within the auspices of the culture.
I then turned my thoughts to geography, and climate. Would extended winters with heavy snow and relatively cool summers result in a propensity for indoor sports? For the answer to this I reviewed the medal table. Compare The two Koreas and the Russian Federation (all countries with long, unforgiving winters) to two countries from warmer climes – Kenya and Ethiopia as examples. Korean and Russian gold medals in 2012 came from archery, fencing, judo, shooting, trampoline, gymnastics and weightlifting. Kenya and Ethiopia have registered success in the 10 000m and the marathon athletic events – in both the men’s and women’s events. Genetic predispositions aside there may very well be something to be said for a climate that facilitates long runs out of doors, versus climates that may force the population to follow pursuits that can be easily mastered indoors.
The rivalry between South Africa and Australia on the rugby field is legendary: these two countries share a love for that sport and produce teams whose prowess is renowned (with South African teams always being just slightly better than Australian teams….!). Largely similar latitudinal position in the southern hemisphere and broadly very similar climate would suggest that the lifestyles of South Africans and Australians is similar. Is it surprising then that both countries won their gold medals in London in swimming events, with other medals (gold and silver) in rowing and canoe slalom? Perhaps we are more similar than we care to admit!
I’ve long since thought that the distance of the event in which you specialise may be determined by the size of your country. It seems sensible that if you are from a country of small total area, you may not end up running marathon distance events – unless circumnavigating your island! I wondered if medals won in London would back me up on this, and bear with me, but I was delighted to find that Jamaica has won its only gold medal (and there will be another in due course!) in the 100m sprint athletic event! Small island – short distance? Recall that the marathon medals came from Ethiopia and Kenya, countries of far greater land area than the Caribbean island nation. It also seems that if you’re from a small country and you have sea available that an escape from claustrophobia is sailing. Great Britain and Denmark have both medalled in this sport.
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