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US immigration fuels America's Olympic success

by Dominic 31/07/2012 11:00:00

Aside from 1980 Moscow Games in which the US did not compete, America has never finished outside the top three in medals tables of the Summer Games since its inception in 1896, and has topped the table more times than any other nation.

The US briefly lost its crown in 2008 to host country China, although it did win more medals, just fewer gold medals, but America is expected to comfortably regain the top spot during the 2012 Summer Games. While China's emergence as a global economic superpower combined with its massive population has been credited for its surge up the rankings, America has had genuine challengers to its supremacy before and prevailed.

During the Cold War both the Soviet Union and East Germany secured more medals than America but eventually fell away while the US maintained top spot. China may represent a more significant challenge but despite its economic success and its 1.3 billion strong population, it does not have the diversity of the US, and that could be its downfall.

American Success at the Summer Olympics 

Year 

City 

Medals
Won
 

Medal Table
Rank
 

Second Place 

Second Place
Medals
 

Notes 

2008

Beijing

110

2

 

 

Second behind China, won more medals, less golds

2004

Athens 

102

1

China

63

 

2000

Sydney 

92

1

Russia

88

 

1996

Atlanta

101

1

Russia

63

 

1992

Barcelona

108

2

 

 

Second behind unified team of 12 countries

1988

Seoul

94

3

 

 

Third behind Soviet Union and East Germany

1984

Los Angeles

174

1

Romania

53

 

1980

Moscow

 

 

 

 

Did not compete due to boycott

1976

Montreal

94

3

 

 

Third behind Soviet Union and East Germany

1972

Munich

94

2

 

 

Second behind Soviet Union

Meanwhile America has withstood all challengers and always quickly regained top spot. This can be attributed to many things, a strong economy and great infrastructure or a widespread passion for sport but one factor whose overwhelming influence cannot be discounted is immigration.

US immigration between the mid-19th and 20th centuries occurred on a never before seen scale and one which is unlikely to ever be seen again. Waves upon waves of people arrived to attempt 'the American Dream' and as a result created one of the most multicultural and ethnically diverse countries in the world, all of which fuelled its march to economic, cultural, scientific and sporting dominance.

America has fought to bring immigration under control for decades, increasing border security, tightening US visa restrictions and deporting more people than ever. However, its greatest strength lies in the new migrants of the past.

The current US Olympic team looks set to be challenged only by the powerhouse that is China and indeed, both countries currently sit atop the medal table after just three days of competition. Yet while China can handpick its talent from a larger pool than the US, America's selection offers much more variety.

America's women's gymnastics team presents the best example of the power of multiculturalism; three of the five members are of European descent, one African-American and one mixed race gymnast. The team qualified in first place in the team event while three finished in the top four of the all-around event, meaning one had to be disqualified as rules only allow for two per country to compete in the finals.

While other countries such as the UK, Canada, Australia and many other Western European nations have similar levels of diversity as the US, they are dwarfed by America's 315 million strong population.

China may be the new kid on the superpower block and be backing up its claims on the medal table but a century of immigration to the US combined with its own economic success and population size means its dominance at the top of the medal podium is unlikely to be challenged for long.


- Dominic Ladden-Powell is the Online Editor for the American Visa Bureau.

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