From the Washington Post:
Where the Rich and Elite Meet to Compete
By Paul Farhi
Never mind the usual puffery about what this month's Winter Olympics are all about. Sure, there's the beauty of sports, the spirit of friendly competition, the dedication of great athletes and all that. But the Winter Games are about a few other things as well: elitism, exclusion and the triumph of the world's sporting haves over its have nots.
What the Winter Games are not is a truly international sporting competition that brings the best of the world together to compete, as the promotional blather would have you believe. Unlike the widely attended Summer Olympics, the winter version is almost exclusively the preserve of a narrow, generally wealthy, predominantly Caucasian collection of athletes and nations. In fact, I'd suggest that the name of the Winter Games, which start Friday, be changed. They could be more accurately branded "The European and North American Expensive Sports Festival."...
In the history of the winter competition, dating from its inception in 1924, competitors from only six countries -- the Soviet Union/Russia, Germany (East, West and combined), Norway, the United States, Austria and Finland, in that order -- have won almost two-thirds of all the medals awarded. Only 17 countries have ever amassed more than 10 medals during the past 19 winter Olympiads. Only 38 countries have won even one medal...
If it were, athletes from countries like Peru, Chile, Nepal, Morocco, Afghanistan and Ethiopia -- all blessed with soaring, snow-covered mountains -- would be marching en masse in the Opening Ceremonies and fighting for the medal stand.
What about Tanzania? They could put a ski jump and a biathlon track on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro!
Instead, the more telling factors are economic. Would-be Winter Olympians need years of training, coaching and competition if they're going to make it to the Games.
Yet, fairly similar patterns can be seen in the Summer Olympics, too. I write a lot about the running races in the Olympics because they offer a more level playing field for the analysis of human biodiversity than most other sports, And, it's nice to see worthy individuals from poor countries, like Hicham el-Gerrouj, the Moroccan star of the 2004 Athens Olympics, excel.
But most Summer Games sports are dominated either by peoples originating in the temperate to cool climates of Europe and Northeast Asia, or by black minorities living in temperate countries, or by countries where Communist dictatorships built up huge sports machines (Cuba being the most successful 3rd World country -- and, as Humberto Fontova would remind me, it had more of a First World economy before Castro).
If you list China as a Northeast Asian country, which seems appropriate from a cultural standpoint, then examples of Summer sports dominated by Northerners include swimming, gymnastics, diving, archery, canoeing, cycling, equestrian, fencing, field hockey (a sport once dominated by India, but no longer), team handball, judo, modern pentathlon, rowing, sailing, shooting, softball, synchronized swimming, table tennis, tennis, triathlon, water polo, and weightlifting.
The ideal situation for winning at the Summer Games appears to be to have people from cold winter climates living in a sunny, mild, low humidity climate like Los Angeles (UCLA and USC are the leading Olympic medal-winning universities in history) or Sydney, where they can train outdoors year-round.
The same appears to be generally true for the new Extreme Sports, which mostly trace their roots to the 1950s when Orange County surfers invented the skateboard.
The Summer Olympic events that would meet Mr. Farhi's approval for diversity of winners are fewer in number: track & field, badminton (dominated by southeast Asians), baseball (but that's being discontinued), basketball (but African-American dominance has been slipping), boxing, soccer (but, with the exception of mighty Brazil, that's largely because the Olympic rules are biased in favor of Third World countries, putting a 23 year age limit on First World countries), volleyball, with the two kinds of wrestling and weightlifting being sui generis because of the strong showing in them by poor countries from the cold winter belt of the Eurasian steppe.
So, why the domination by the Winter People over the Tropical People in both Olympics? Mr. Farhi says it's economic, but then that just raises the question of why the Ice People are so much more economically productive than the Sun People? And, as hugely important as that question is, that's not a topic you'll likely see explored frankly in the Washington Post. But one possibility is that the worry that winter, the starving time, is approaching selected for cultural and/or genetic traits such as self-discipline in the Ice People, which now prove useful both in the economic and sporting spheres.