For many small nations, the Olympic experience lasts only a few minutes
Aishath Reesha, a 19-year-old 800-meter runner, had just finished practice at the Chaoyang Sports Center, a proletarian track sequestered from the Olympic mobs. She sat with her back to a recently whitewashed wall, an ice-pack on her neck, and watched as a French sprinter sped past.
“We can’t compete with people from other worlds,” she said in a whisper. “I’m not scared. My goal is to better my personal best.”
Ms. Reesha is from Maldives, a group of atolls in the Indian Ocean with a population of 379,000, per capita income of $4,600, and a serious worry about being washed away. Her personal best in the 800-meter race is 2:32.97; the Olympic record is more than 38 seconds faster.
“We are not qualified for the Olympics,” said her coach, whose name is Ahmed Faail. He was standing over Ali Shareef, his 100-meter runner, who was on flat on his back with a leg in the air. Mr. Faail was helping him work out a kink. “In the heats there are people with a lot of experience,” he said. “We will not be winning heats.”
Among the 222 countries that have sent athletes to the modern Games since 1896, only 130 have brought a medal home.
What’s billed as a meet for the fittest in truth has a second division of schlumps. Every nation is encouraged with money and training programs to send one man and one woman, even if they don’t have a soul who qualifies. The IOC doesn’t tally how many of the 10,500 athletes here get in that way, but they appear to number at least in the hundreds. Most end up swimming or running, activities where being inept doesn’t automatically result in broken necks.
Olympic universality has bred a line of famous bunglers, from Wym Essajas of Suriname, who missed his 800-meter heat in 1960, to Eric Moussambani of Equatorial Guinea, who took nearly two minutes to swim 100 meters in 2000. Yet for all its promotion of participation, the IOC gives its losers no glory: Its history-packed Web site displays only winning countries and their medal counts.
Asked where to find lists of also-rans, an IOC press officer suggests sending an email to its information center. It’s the sort of reply that’s long griped a small international club of amateur statistics nuts calling themselves the Oly Madmen. Led by Bill Mallon, a shoulder surgeon in Durham, N.C., the Madmen have spent five years building an easy-to-manipulate database that comprises every run, jump, throw, dive and somersault in Olympic history. It folds in Hector Hatch’s ninth-place welterweight boxing tie for Fiji in 1956, and the 51st-place mixed-free-pistol finish Aferdita Tusha racked up for Albania in 1972. The Madmen have compiled the records of 110,000 Olympic athletes and are at work on thumbnail biographies for each one; so far, they’ve done 24,000. WSJ.