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Britain third in Olympic medal table. What a disaster!

This is 1912 I am referring to (of course), when Britain had ended up behind the United States and Sweden, and not more recent times. A certain Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who you may have heard of) is particuarly upset:

All who have our reputation as athletes at heart owe a debt of gratitude to you Correspondent at the Stockholm Games for his very clear and outspoken comments on the situation. We can now see the causes of past failure.

But he has a solution:

1. The first is the formation of a British Empire Team…

Like the Australians know anything about winning at the Olympics. Ha!

Actually, Sir Arthur is kinda sorta touching on, what is, in 1912, for Britain, a worrisome issue. Britain’s lead is slipping. France, Germany and the US are all catching up. Meanwhile, the colonies, especially Canada and Australia, are becoming less dependent on the Mother Country. Britain wants to retain some influence without getting into the same mess it got into with the Americans. Hence ideas are being floated for a combined tariff wall, a combined defence staff and (in this case) a combined Olympics team. They won’t work, of course, but Britain does, at least, manage to avoid a war of colonial repression. And the colonies manage to show up on time for the world wars.

The Times, Tuesday, Jul 30, 1912; pg. 6

10 comments to Britain third in Olympic medal table. What a disaster!

  • Re the Australian angle, this may amuse.

    To his credit, I got sent that link by Michael Jennings, of Samizdata and Australia.

  • The colonies turned up on time for the First World War, of course. For the second world war, they made a show (initially sincere, but it didn’t last) of showing up on time, but by 1942 they were mostly following their own interests rather than the interests of Britain and the empire. At that point, the empire was dead, and the few years after the war were spent formalising that.

    As for the Australian performance at these Olympics, things have got much better in the second week than they were in the first. Australia will likely end up winning about as many gold medals as in Atlanta – worse than Sydney, Athens, or Beijing, but better than Barcelona, Seoul, and most years before that. The usual story is that Australia does better in the first week than the second due to Australia doing well at swimming. This has not happened this time. An interesting story is that another country that traditionally does well at swimming – Japan – also did terribly, and China did very, very well, particularly in the women’s events. I think that the amount of discussion that is going on about this privately may be greater than what we are hearing in the media.

  • 1) “Michael Jennings of Australia”? I had thought that he had taken mighty vows, and answered quiz questions on the wonderfulness of the welfare state, to be Australian no more!

    2) Patrick, a really spooky parallel would be if in 1912 a prime minister who had emigrated to Australia from a part of Britain with a coalmining tradition and had then risen through the ranks of the Labor party had been throwing threats of libel suits around left, right and centre to squash rumours of a scandal involving financial dealings jointly undertaken with a former lover of hers, sorry, his.

    Combinations of “Julia Gillard”, “Bruce Wilson” “Theiss” and “AWU” give interesting results on Google.

  • Smited, possibly by a legally-aware smitebot. Your choice whether to unsmite me, Patrick!

  • And I am sure you are already aware that, although I don’t think the “combined defence staff” thing ever happened in the full sense, the list of senior Australian / Canadian / New Zealand / South African officers who we cheerfully claim as “British” in our histories of WWI and WWII is long. Sir Keith Park is the first that comes to mind.

  • And in addition to that, the militaries of Canada, Australia, Britain, and New Zealand still make transfers from one to the other very easy, and are therefore full of people who started out in one of those countries and ended up in another.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    Australia showed up on time!!! Then Churchill wanted australian ships to stay in Europe, even though the Japanese were advancing on Northern Australia! (Or so it seemed at the time.) You can blame Churchill for the fact that we lost the war!

  • Interesting that Conan Doyle writes of finding a rich man and appealing to the public for funds, and not the-government-must-spend-more that we would hear today.

  • JAWolf

    A quick glance at the medal table for the 1912 games showa that if you added the totals for the rest of the empire: Australasia (Australia and New Zealand sent a combined team), Canada and South Africa to Great Britan’s totals… they’d still be in 3rd place.

  • Robert

    Here’s the medal table with a single British Empire team:
    Country G/S/B
    1. The British Empire 55/59/75
    2. USA 46/29/29
    3. China 38/27/22
    4. Russia 24/25/33
    5. South Korea 13/8/7
    6. Germany 11/19/14
    7. France 11/11/12
    8. Italy 8/9/11
    9. Hungary 8/4/5
    10. Japan 7/14/17

    To get the British Empire total I just added together the following countries’ medals:
    Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, South Africa, Kenya, Canada, Ireland, Trinidad & Tobago, Bahamas, Grenada, India, Egypt, Malaysia, Botswana, Cyprus, Qatar, Singapore, Bahrain, Hong Kong.