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World Leaders Spin the Olympic Medals

Which country did best at the Athens Olympics?

September 3, 2004

Which country did best at the Athens Olympics?

A lot has happened over the past couple of years," Mr. Annan started out. "And I am sure that all of you have watched the wonderful Olympic Games in Athens, during which the world community came together and enjoyed three weeks of wonderful and peaceful competition."

"It is that spirit of cooperation and peaceful coexistence that I would like to see continued on the global stage," Mr. Annan continued.

"I fully agree," interjected U.S. President Bush, who had noticed a somewhat frosty welcome after entering the room and was eager to seize the moment. "And America is ready to lead the world once again, in the spirit of our awesome performance during the Olympics."

"What do you mean?" Kofi Annan replied after only the slightest hesitation. As if he had been waiting for his cue, President Bush put a well-worn and slightly yellowed copy of the Sunday, August 29, Washington Post down on the table.

"I wanted y'all to read this headline, just so that there's no misunderstanding about those games in Athens," he declared. "The headline says: 'In Medals, U.S. Rules the World.'"

"The story shows how the United States is clearly the dominant sports power now, while Russia has slipped — and China has risen. In 1988, the USSR had almost 40 more medals than the United States — but this time we have 11 more than the Russians," the well-briefed president elaborated.

"Excuse me, George" interrupted his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, "but you should know that the USSR is not the same thing as Russia. In fact, the former USSR has almost twice the population of Russia — nearly the same as the United States."

"More importantly," Mr. Putin continued with a steely glance, "all the countries of the former USSR — including Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic states — taken together have won a whopping 58 more medals than the United States."

"And since you brought up the historic comparison, the former USSR has increased its lead over the United States to nearly 60 medals — from less than 40 in 1988," Mr. Putin concluded, crossing his arms and putting his feet on the table.

"Marvelous for you, old chap" countered Tony Blair, keen to match his prowess with Mr. Putin's. "But if we start creating non-existent political entities, how about considering the Heart of Western Europe?"

"The United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and the Benelux countries together also have almost the same population as the United States or the former USSR," the British Prime Minister continued as Germany's Gerhard Schröder and France's Jacques Chirac nodded eagerly. "And our Olympic Heroes of the Heart earned eight more medals than even the former USSR."

"All of you rich countries can strut about and brag about your success," offered Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao so quietly that everyone had to lean closely to listen.

"But we upstanding Communists from the Middle Kingdom are the real Cinderella story. From almost no medals in 1988, we have risen to become a major world sports power."

Mr. Blair looked annoyed. "With almost 1.3 billion people, half again as many as the United States, the former USSR and the Heart of Europe together, I'd question how triumphant you were in Athens."

"Let's compare apples with apples here, my imperialist friend," Mr. Jibao snapped back. "Yours are all highly developed countries. If you want to benchmark China's performance, compare it to a developing region like South Asia. It has a larger population than China — and won a grand total of one medal."

But just as India's usually mild-mannered new Prime Minister Singh jumped up to defend his country's Olympic performance, Australian Prime Minister John Howard interjected a comment that cut through the tension.

"All of you are second rate in sports compared to us, mates. We have 1/14th the population of the United States, the former USSR, or the Heart of Europe. And we have 1/65th the population of China or South Asia. But we won almost half as many medals as the United States and only 14 fewer medals than China."

But the Australian PM's triumph didn't last long, as all heads turned sharply at the sound of a fist striking the table. Fidel Castro, looking fit and trim in his military fatigues, had crashed the dinner party — surrounded by a phalanx of medal-wearing Cuban boxers.

"Our whole population would fit comfortably into a small corner of any of your countries," he announced. "And yet, we won 27 medals. This Olympics demonstrates that Cuba is the land of opportunity — where everyone has a chance to achieve greatness."

Despite Mr. Castro's revolutionary fervor, President Bush composed himself with remarkable speed and turned to the assembled leaders. "The numbers don't lie. We are the greatest — and I’m not gonna flip-flop about that. All the rest of y'all can play your mind games, but we win — because we never lose."

At a loss for words, Mr. Castro turned to UN General Secretary Annan and shrugged. "Well, you can't argue with that."