Though Day 16, the last of the Summer 2012 Olympics, did not have a full schedule of competition, there were a number of highly anticipated events that took place. The men's marathon, the traditional closing race of the Summer Games, had an unexpected finish with 23 year-old Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda darting past Kenyan favorites Abel Kirui and Wilson Kipsang to take gold. Kiprotich completed the 42.2km (26.2 miles) race about The Mall in 2:08:01.
In front of a star-studded crowd, the USA basketball team, which some commentators have described as the second Dream Team, met Spain to decide who would take the title of Kings of the Court. It was a close first half but, with Marc Gasol on the bench and Kevin Durant electrifying North Greenwich Arena, the US took a secure lead in the fourth quarter, ending the game with a 107 to 100 point victory.
The image of Lakers Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol playing against each other was a clear example of how the internationalization of professional sports like basketball, football, and tennis has changed the dynamic at the Olympic Games. More and more of the world's athletes are training outside of their native countries as there is more opportunity to connect with the best trainers and facilities, however remote from one's birthplace they may be. Even some Chinese athletes like Sun Yang - 2012 gold medalist in the 400m and 1500m freestyle - have abandoned their national programs to train at foreign centers and with foreign coaches.
To see what impact these changes have had on the depth of the athletic competition at the Games, I looked at the number of nations earning at least one medal to the number of participating nations for all the past Summer Games. Since the early 1990s, this percentage has been around 40%. Though it has been increasing steadily, the increases have been modest. This suggests that the internationalization of the world's sports has made it more possible for athletes from over 200 nations around the world to be at an competitive level for entry into the Olympics but not necessarily a level for bringing home medals. By and large, the biggest and wealthiest nations still have the most successful Olympic teams.
The last medals of the competition were awarded to the three best female finishers in the modern pentathlon. During a grueling morning, they demonstrated their skill at the calvary in performances in five separate events: fencing, shooting, jumping, swimming, and running. It was a fitting award to the host country, who successfully brought us two weeks of thrilling sporting spectacle, that their own Samantha Murray took the last silver of the Games.
By the time Mayor of London Boris Johnson passed the Olympic flag to his equivalent, Rio de Janeiro's Mayor Eduardo Paes, the host country had collected 65 overall medals. This is more than Great Britain has earned in any other Summer Games since London's first Olympiad in 1908.
The USA collected the most medals overall, ending with 104 medals and 46 golds, outperforming the next best China who ended with 87 medals and 38 golds. However, total medals do not really give the best measure of a nation's success because it does not account for the different number of competitors each nation sends to the Games. In the following graph, I have plotted the number of overall medals won to the number of competitors entered by the USA, China, Great Britain and Jamaica during the last forty years of Olympic competition. The average medals per competitor can be thought of as a nation's density of athletic talent.
Over the past forty years, the talent density of the USA was actually highest in the 1980s compared to more recent Games. There is no data for the 1980 Games since the US did not participate in protest of the Soviet War in Afghanistan.
After the People's Republic of China began competing regularly at the Olympics in 1984, it has steadily increased its talent. Interestingly, Great Britain has had an even steadier increase beginning with the 1996 Games, approaching US and Chinese levels of athletic talent density in 2008. But from 2008 forward, Jamaica has had more raw talent per competitor than any of the big three. This is one reason why the XXX Olympiad might justifiably be remembered as the Usain Games.
We will have to wait for Rio to see whether Bolt can strike thrice.