As we enter the final weekend of the Games, it already looks all but certain that Great Britain will finish third in the medal table on the most popular counting method. On the measure preferred by the North American media (total number of medals regardless of colour), GB have now slipped behind Russia, but fourth place would still represent an outstanding achievement. And of course one thing that is already absolutely guaranteed is that GB will have their best medal haul since London 1908, easily outstripping the team's lacklustre performance when the Games were most recently held on home soil in 1948. Undoubtedly, the gold rush has captured the imaginations of many, and led to an upsurge in the type of British/English/can't-quite-tell-the-difference-between-the-two nationalism that we might have imagined had ended with Euro '96, when England football supporters finally noticed that the Union Jack wasn't their most obvious choice of flag.
There is, however, a 'but'. We need turn the clock back less than a quarter of a century for a reminder that the apparent rude health of a country's Olympic team is no guide at all to the health of the country itself. In Seoul '88, the top two places in the medal table were occupied by countries that wouldn't even exist by the time Barcelona came round four years later. In particular, the East German team marked their swansong with their best ever performance at a Summer Games - just one year before the fall of the communist regime.
Few in eastern Germany seriously regret the demise of their former Olympic team. Just as people in Scotland generally feel Scottish more than British, people in eastern Germany feel German more than 'Ossi'. And of course, the sporting success enjoyed by the former communist state was achieved by thoroughly dubious means. All the same, the memories of political interference in sport and suspicions of widespread doping can't entirely dispel the residual affection felt by some for the defunct, all-conquering team. By the same token, the BOA's disgraceful bullying of Scottish and Welsh athletes who want to express a degree of national identity, and their haughty disdain for the rights and privileges of Scottish sports authorities, can't wholly tarnish the affection many Scots have felt for Team GB over the years. However unsatisfactory the setup, they've been our only representatives, and that counts for something. So in the case of both East Germany and Great Britain, it's perhaps rather fitting that the team should bid farewell to the Olympics on a high.
Thanks for the ride, guys - but now it's time for an exciting new Olympic chapter to unfold, as Team Scotland looks ahead to its potential debut in Rio.
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We've heard a great deal over the last couple of weeks about how 'success' is a far more important consideration at the Olympics than the trifling matter of Scottish national identity. Imagine my bafflement, therefore, to encounter some inexplicable resistance among the ranks of PB Tories to the idea that success is also more important than British national identity, as I floated my bold - and frankly thrilling - plan for Team GB to dissolve itself into a world-beating Team EU in all future Olympic Games. A few intriguing objections emerged...
Team EU would be 'less than the sum of its parts'.
Well, quite. The Bahamas (an independent country with a population less than a tenth as large as Scotland's) defeated the mighty USA in the 4x400m relay last night. I doubt if the first thought of most in Nassau was "what we really need to do now is subsume ourselves into a greater whole", but you never know, I suppose.
'I don't see how adding Europeans would have helped the GB cycling team.'
Absolutely. Success in swimming, badminton, basketball, hockey, taekwondo, athletics, beach volleyball, archery, judo, gymnastics and table tennis is all totally irrelevant. As long as there's just one sport in which the GB squad can't be improved by the addition of Europeans, the argument for a Team EU is killed stone-dead. That's a scientific fact. Intriguingly, this also means that the Scottish domination of the GB curling squad has killed the argument for a Team GB at the Olympics stone-dead. Who'd have thunk it?
'Imagine the mayhem on the selection committees!'
Oh, I think this 'problem' is vastly overstated. The English Football Association would happily give way to their betters in the EU Olympic Association, and wouldn't worry their pretty heads about the consequences for their national team's participation in major events such as the World Cup. After all, everyone knows that the average English football supporter would much rather see one or two English players win the World Cup as part of Team EU than see a sub-standard England team merely reach the quarter-finals.
'Far fewer British athletes would have the chance to compete at the Olympics.'
Hmmm. This is a particularly surprising objection, because it seems to imply that success in winning medals is not, after all, the primary consideration, and that the opportunity for the greatest number of athletes to compete is what we should be chasing instead. This principle would of course mean that a Team Scotland is by definition preferable to Team GB, but I'm sure I must be missing something.