“For all their egalitarian aspirations, embodied by the parade in the opening ceremony, the Olympics are a highly lopsided affair. Through Saturday afternoon, the five most victorious countries had claimed nearly 40 percent of all the medals, and the top 10 owned about 55 percent. Most countries — more than 120 as of Friday — go home with nothing.”
— “Where one Olympic medal is a lot better than none,” The New York Times, Aug. 20
What does the Cayman Islands have in common with Bermuda, Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia? Each failed to win a medal at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio, which concluded Sunday.
Don’t worry, this editorial is not one of despair. In fact, by going “medal-less” in the Olympics, Cayman finds itself in good company with a host of nations, territories and jurisdictions who came away from Rio with accolades, memories and experiences … but without the hardware. In all, 87 countries won at least one Olympic medal this summer, but the majority — 120 — won zero.
That final number is an update to the preliminary statistic cited in the Times story referenced above. The compelling narrative published by the Times focuses on athletes (a tandem of sailors from Austria and a wrestler from Cameroon) who represented their respective countries’ last, and therefore best, chances to medal in Rio. The sailors won bronze; the wrestler fell just short.
Apart from the “thrill of victory/agony of defeat” dichotomy that drives athletes everywhere, the Times story also features the less-than-aspirational aspects of “supporters” back home. In a word, many people in some countries don’t possess the perspective or the “CaymanKindness” that exists in our islands.
Here’s some numerical perspective: Austria’s population is 9 million. Cameroon’s is 24 million. Cayman’s is roughly 60,000. The largest country to never win an Olympic medal (according to USA Today) is Bangladesh, with a population of 169 million.
Put another way, at the Olympics, Cayman is a very small David surrounded by a horde of Goliaths. It would be extremely unfair to our athletes or our sports organizers to hold expectations of victory.
Not that there’s ever an absence of hope. The smallest country to win a medal this year (a silver in the men’s 400-meter sprint) is Grenada, which is home to less than 106,000 people. Jamaica, with 2.7 million people, far outperformed its population statistics, hauling in 11 Olympic medals, including six golds.
That being said, Cayman sends athletes to the Olympics more for reasons of mettle, than medal. Our athletes test themselves and gauge their limits. As a country we celebrate our membership in the global fraternity. And then there are the opportunities to rub shoulders with the legendary likes of American swimmers Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky, as well as Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt (who in Cayman we regard as an adopted “hometown hero.”)
Cayman’s participation in the Olympics is an important form of recognition that we do have a rightful place, however small, on the grand world stage.
One final time in this editorial space, we wish to honor our 2016 Rio competitors and recognize them by name: Florence Allan, Geoffrey Butler, Lara Butler, Ronald Forbes and Kemar Hyman.
As a country, we thank you for your striving. You will always be Cayman’s champions. And you will always be Olympians.