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From London to Rio de Janeiro

A general view of the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 27, 2012 at the Olympic Stadium in London.
A general view of the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 27, 2012 at the Olympic Stadium in London.

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As Olympic athletes pack up from the London 2012 Summer Games, the focus now turns to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro.

The UK games were a resounding success and NBC, who took a beating on social media for its delayed, edited coverage, had such great television ratings that the network will actually make a small profit for its coverage.

American women athletes also cleaned up in the medal count – for the first time, there were more female U.S. athletes than male athletes.

Maureen Smith, Professor of Sport History at CSU Sacramento, said that the numbers of girls in sports have been continually on the rise, as well as the number of women watching the Olympic Games.

"A lot of people talk about how women really love to be Olympic viewers and they say it's because women want to hear these personal stories. I would suggest maybe women are watching because it's one of the few times they actually get to watch women play sports on TV," she said.

Smith added that NBC should continue airing women's sports, and groups like the U.S. Olympic soccer team should capitalize on their current popularity. "With the world cup in Canada in two years, I think it would be great if people – men, women, kids – were able to see woman's soccer more than every four years," she continued.

The women also raked in the gold with 29 top-of-the-podium medals. If matched as a country, the U.S. would have ranked behind China’s 38 gold medals and tied with Great Britain, which took home 29.

David Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians, noted that unlike other countries with major medal wins, the U.S. had medals concentrated in two sports. "Specifically, 60 percent of the medals won by Americans were in either swimming or track and field. If you look at Russia, China, Germany – it's more divided among different sports," he detailed.

He posited that the fact the U.S. is the only major country without government funding of sports influences its outcome in the Olympics.

"We're a large, wealthy, country, and there are certain sports where the United States should excel, perhaps once did excel, and no longer does. Back into the 50s and even the 60s, the United States was a big power in weightlifting," he started. "Now, if you're a big strong person, particularly a male, you're going to ... be a football player, because you can make money and gain glory. In other countries, such as Bulgaria, Turkey, even Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, you can be a champion weightlifter and you're going to be a national hero and appear on the stands."

What does the success of these games mean for future Olympic teams? With athletic programs feeling the pinch of budget cuts, will these games help future athletes? And what will the ripple effect be of these games on the 2016 Rio de Janeiro competitions?


Maureen Smith, Professor of Sport History in the Kinesology and Health Science Department, California State University, Sacramento

David Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians and author of The Complete Book of the Olympics (Aurum Press)