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Region: Olympic games – reality and potential

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Forget the Olympic ideals of amateurism and simplicity. Sport is big business these days all over the world, and the London Olympics will be no exception.

In the Beijing games, more than half the medals were won by athletes from the world's ten largest economies. Small countries, such as those of Central America, are unlikely to be prominent in the UK.

In fact, Central America has won only two Olympic gold medals, one by the Costa Rican swimmer Claudia Poll in 1996, the other four years ago by Panama's long-jumper, Irving Saladino, who will be defending his Beijing victory this month.

Along with Saladino, Central America's hopes are pinned on Costa Rica's Nery Brenes, who is aiming for the 400 meters crown. No other Central Americans is likely to get close to the podium, say most experts.

The whole organization of the games is heavily weighted against underdeveloped countries. Neither the favelas of Brazil, now the townships of South Africa produce many practitioners of elitist sports, such as yachting and equestrian dressage.

Yet Central America can find inspiration from some of the world's poorest nations. Kenya and Ethiopia have for decades dominated long-distance running.

Closer to home is the case of Jamaica, many of whose sprinters have been faster in recent years than their counterparts from the United States Americans. And richer, too. Usain Bolt, who is favored to regain his Olympic titles in London, earns $20 million a year, according to Forbes magazine.