Mumbai: The Indian contingent to the recent London Olympics deserves to be proud of what it has achieved, doubling the medals tally since Beijing 2008. The six medals it won are the highest by an Indian contingent at any Olympics.
There is now a lot of optimistic discussion about preparing for even more success at Rio de Janeiro. How to go about the task? A closer look at the medals tally of the 10 most successful nations at London gives some interesting insights into the mystery of Olympics success, and provides some clues about the future strategy for the Indian sports establishment in preparation for Rio 2016.
Most of the best-performing squads at the London Olympics depended very heavily on a few sports to win medals, rather than dominating in all events. Competitive strengths were found in focused areas. The table shows that most of the medals—between 32.18% and 64.47%—won by these countries come from their respective top three sports.
Michael Phelps of the US, the most decorated Olmypian. Most of the best-performing squads at the Games depend very heavily on a few sports to win medals, rather than dominating in all event. Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
In the case of the US, for example, just two disciplines—athletics and swimming—account for 60 of the 104 medals its athletes won. South Korea seems to have a thing for events that have martial roots —fencing, shooting and archery. Swimming plays a huge role in the Australian success.
One lesson that could be learnt from this data is that it is best to identify competitive advantages in a handful of sports and focus on them. India already seems to have strengths in boxing, shooting, wrestling and archery (even though the archers performed miserably in London). Badminton is the other possibility. In other words, sports administrators in India may have to think strategically rather than casting the net aimlessly wide.
That is easier said than done. The big issue is whether sports officials can pick the sports that need special focus or should they just let the best athletes emerge. Economic policymakers have struggled with a variant of this problem —should the government pick winning industries or stand aside to let the market decide? It is an issue that still leads to sharp debates about the efficacy of industrial policy, as the idea that governments should support select industries got immense support from development experts, then faded out only to make a comeback in recent years. Companies also struggle with the problem of identifying their core competency and deciding how much to diversify. India could face a similar sporting dilemma.
Finally, it is interesting to note that interventionist China has more symmetric distribution of Olympics success compared with the strongly skewed distribution in a free market country such as the US.