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'Financial backing and healthy college system will keep US sport strong'

Alex Ferguson Posted 15th August 2012 view comments

If you love the Olympics but hate hearing the United States of America's anthem "The Star-Spangled Banner" played where it insists that America really is the 'Land of the free and home of the brave', then London 2012 wasn't the Olympic games for you.

Why? Because after arriving looking like something out of a US Navy advertisement (if the US Navy were dressed by Ralph Lauren), the USA came, saw, and took home 46 gold medals from these Olympics, winning beautiful medallions of partial gold on the track, on the water, in the water, and in the boxing ring.

Phelps: one of America's many success stories from the London Olympics

Phelps: one of America's many success stories from the London Olympics

Heck, they even won golds where it wasn't expected (sorry, Rebecca Adlington), although everyone expected Michael Phelps to win one or two (which he did). And everyone was in such a good mood, we even forgot about Justin Gatlin getting third in the 100m (google Gatlin's name and 'medallist' isn't the only thing that comes up on his CV).

And while over in America there was outrage at NBC for their coverage of the Games (they didn't exactly cover themselves in glory when they were putting London 2012 on tape delay, so that the prime-time audience would be able to see every American success - albeit some hours after the Games had finished), one question has to be asked: How did all the people slaughtering NBC on Twitter become so proficient with their computer while at the same time being completely incompetent at simply watching NBC online, which they allowed you to do with a cable uplink?

The money coming in from the USOC's deals are so good that athletes are on a virtual gravy train of excellent funding and golden excellence for decades to come.

Alex Ferguson
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Anyway, the big thing to bring out of the USA's 46 golds, 29 silvers and 29 bronzes is that - and yes, we know that the US magazines (and NBC) will prefer to focus on athletes who have better stories than this - but basically, this was one big return on investment.

In the same way as athletes were backed in the UK, the US Olympic Committee (according to figures released by the US Olympic Committee and compiled by Bloomberg) were fantastic backers of their own athletes, laying out millions upon millions of dollars worth of grants to make sure that their athletes succeeded.

This has been helped by the fact that due to US law, the USOC receives more money from the International Olympic Committee than any other organising body, according to the St Louis Post-Dispatch, and thanks to a deal done in the 1980s, the paper says, the USOC receives nearly 13 per cent of NBC's broadcast rights payment to the IOC as well as 20 per cent of the sponsorship deals the IOC gets. To quote an age-old saying, that's a 'lotta lucre'.


For example, canoeing/kayaking, boxing, triathalon, judo, synchronized swimming, taekwondo, weightlifting, badminton, table tennis and archery - the latter which the USA reached the team final in and lost in an incredible finish to an Italian team that, shall we say, didn't exactly look the Olympic types - all received millions of dollars worth of funding (apart from table tennis, which was around the $500,000 mark).

The major investments - diving, cycling, equestrian, shooting, volleyball, rowing, wrestling, gymnastics, track and field, and swimming all received $4m+ of funding, with track and field and swimming - the USA's most dominant sports historically - receiving $10m of funding over the last four years.

The biggest frown on the USOC's faces has been the boxing, which saw no medals for the men. "We're going to sit down and take a hard look at why we are where we are, and make some changes," the governing body's CEO Scott Blackmun said. "I don't want to say anything beyond that."

But of the highest-profile sports that USOC didn't seem to put any considerable amount of budget into was basketball, although bearing in mind that the pool of talent both sets of teams have thanks to the NBA and WNBA the gold medals weren't a particularly difficult objective!

Heck, the USOC even helped to start up another laughable debate on the US media on whether LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan (our answer: nope)!


Anyway, one of the other great things that helped the US in its Olympic success was the high school and college sports systems, in which excellence at high school level is fostered with scholarships at a collegiate level.

Nearly 50 schools were represented at Olympic level from everything from fencing to water polo, diving to track and field, and the 132 student-athletes that came to London certainly did well, bringing home a combined 47 medals (22 gold, 11 silver, and 14 bronze).

"If the student-athletes were their own country, they would rank behind host nation Great Britain... and ahead of Germany", the NCAA boasted in a press release, adding that it had the 24th most participants in the games - if it were a country unto itself.

'Team America' has also been helped by Title IX, which ensures equal opportunity funding for both females and males in terms of both funding and scholarships when it comes to university sports. Thanks to the money flowing in from that, 66 per cent of all US gold medal winners were women.

But how are the US sports funded? One of the biggest things that US colleges rely more than anything else on the 'booster system' where they go to rich donors and beg them for financial capital to help with training facilities and equipment - in the same way that college sports like basketball, baseball and, of course, American Football do.

The problems for sports in colleges other than 'football' and basketball is that they all rely on the success of the aforementioned teams. For example, the money from a stadium that packs in 100,000 people can not only be good for the team, but also for other sports at the university as well.

So will the US freight train stop? For the forseeable future, no. The university system is so good that foreign athletes want to go and ply their trades there. The money coming in from the USOC's deals are so good that athletes are on a virtual gravy train of excellent funding and golden excellence for decades to come. But will the American public ever get bored of this? Nope.

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