FT creates splash but minnow pours cold water on Olympic confidence
Those smart chaps at the Financial Times have come up with their own version of the Olympic medals table and fascinating browsing it makes.
Success at the Olympic Games is not just a matter of individual sporting excellence but overwhelmingly reflects population size, GDP per capita, past performance and host country advantage.
That means you would expect the United States and China to do well because of their dominant economic position in the world.
But which countries did better than their economic situation would suggest? Step forward Japan, with a medal total 10 per cent higher than its "zombie" economy implies, followed by Russia and Great Britain.
Then, surprisingly, comes Iran, 8 per cent better than its sanctions-blighted economy would have you believe.
But, as far as I was concerned, there was only one Olympic contest worth watching: the battle between Azerbaijan and Ireland in the medals table.
OK, I know most attention was on the race for the top gold slot between China and the US, while quite a lot of attention was focused on how many the hosts, Great Britain and Northern Ireland, would get.
But in a fit of jingoism on the day of the opening ceremony, I flatly told my Azeri wife: "No way are your lot going to get more than the Irish.
I thought was on solid ground. I mean, what have the Azeris ever won at sport? With a fine Irish tradition in boxing, equestrian and some athletics, surely I was on to a winner. For a while, neither of us had much luck. Then the Azeris picked up a bronze at weightlifting, then some more, while the Irish were rooted on zero.
Then the Irish crept back in, with a couple of minor medals followed by a gold from Katie Taylor in the female boxing (incidentally, a sport in which Azeri women are also pretty good, in my experience).
But it was not to be for me. A couple of late Azeri golds in wrestling (another sporting skill I should have been aware of) threw the contest decisively in my wife's direction, 10-5 for Azerbaijan. I thought briefly about claiming the portion of the UK medals won by competitors from Northern Ireland as Irish too, which would have levelled it at 10-10. But it seemed too complicated to explain.
I had a very enjoyable trip to Malaysia last week: beautiful country, lovely people. But, in a bookshop in the Kuala Lumpur airport, it was a surprise to see the display and promotion given to their best-selling title: Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler.
Of course, we should all be able to read what we want but, as I remember it from university days, it is almost unintelligible to anybody not already versed in German history of the early 20th century. Not something you would curl up in bed with.
A worthy academic exercise? Yes. A bestseller? Definitely not.
I asked the assistant why it was top of the sales lists. "Customers like to read his story," she said.
Or maybe it was "customers like to read history" and I misheard.
Published: August 15, 2012 04:00 AM