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The List: The World’s Worst Olympians

The List: The World’s Worst Olympians

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India

Medal count: 17

Score card: Think of India as the Washington Nationals of Olympic sport. India is by far the worst-performing Olympic countryno matter how you slice it. Its not for lack of trying. A games participant since 1900, India still ranks behind Nigeria, a country with an economy one twentieth Indias size, in total medals. The countrys athletic ineptitude is so profound that a parliamentarian called for two minutes of silence to lament the demise of Indian sports after the squad failed to win any medals in Barcelona in 1992.

Whats wrong? Few sports venues (roughly 33 stadiums and sports complexes for 1.1 billion people), a lack of school sports programs, stingy government funding, and a narrow talent base. The result? A country whose most celebrated claim to Olympic greatness is The Flying Sikh, a track-and-field star who broke hearts by placing fourth at the 1960 Rome Games. Its not that Indians cant excel at athletics. Since 1933, the state of Punjab has hosted its own rural Olympics, where competitors vie for glory in tug of war, mule-cart racing, sack lifting, tent pegging, and various feats of strength. And theres hope in the air. Indian steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal has established a trust to fund athletes training and medical care and put India firmly on the medal grid for 2012.

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Venezuela

Medal count: 10

Score card: In May 2008, Hugo Chvez professed high hopes for his countrys Olympic team, which the Venezuelan president labeled bearers of the homeland shame and the national pride. Chvez is sending 100 athletes to Beijing, but if history is any bench mark, the strongmans ambitions are sure to be dashed. Venezuelans have brought home only as many medals as Trinidad and Tobago, despite winning their first medal in Helsinki in 1952. Georgia, which first medaled at the 1996 Atlanta Games, has already outpaced the Bolivarian Republic. Venezuela has taken home only one gold, and the only Venezuelan woman to earn a medal is Adriana Carmona, who won the bronze for tae kwon do in Athens in 2004.

Whats wrong? Misplaced priorities. In a bizarre turn reminiscent of the film Cool Runnings, Venezuela fielded a male luge team in the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. And although the father-son team did hold the prestigious titles of both oldest and youngest male lugers at the games, they didnt bring home any medals. (Neither did Jamaicawhich, incidentally, has won triple Venezuelas medal count.)

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Israel

Medal count: 6

The score card: The Jewish state may command outsized attention in the diplomatic arena, but Israels performance on the field of sport has been anything but impressive. Since winning its first medal in 1992, Israel remains tied with Uganda in the medal count. Of the other countries that first reached the podium in Barcelona, Israel has been left in the dust by Croatia, Slovenia, and Lithuania.

Whats wrong? Israel claims to have gotten serious about prestigious international competition only in the past two decades, despite having had a recognized Olympic committee since 1952. According to the committees Web site, [I]n the beginning, participation was important for the sake of the flag and the symbolic value. During the mid-1980s, however, the Olympic Committee set itself a further goalplacing Israel on the map of world achievements. When Gal Fridman took home Israelis first gold medal at the 2004 Athens Games, a columnist for Haaretz acidly observed that the windsurfing champion had confounded the Israeli athletic ethos that enshrines mediocrity and even aggrandizes it.

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Taiwan*

Medal count: 15

The score card: In the medal count, Taiwan ranks with Mongolia, whose economy is roughly one hundredth its size. Taiwan has half the medals of Ethiopia, which, like Taiwan, won its first medal at the 1960 Rome Games.

Whats wrong? Taiwans Olympic status has always been contested. For years, mainland China boycotted the games to protest Taiwans participation. Communist Party leaders succeeded in 1979 in getting the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to agree that Taiwan had never been a recognized Olympic country and that it would have to compete as Chinese Taipei. Taiwan must also march under a special Olympic flag and may play only the National Flag Anthem on the few occasions when its athletes reach the podium. Many Taiwanese also blame pro-Korean judges for robbing them of medals in tae kwon do.

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Peru

Medal count: 4

The score card: Peru stands with Zimbabwe and Moldova, arguably the biggest losers in Africa and Eastern Europe, respectively, as a top Olympic washout in its region. Nor does Peru fare well among countries that also took home their first medal at the 1948 London Games. Jamaicawhose economy is one tenth the size of Perushas brought home 10 times as many medals.

Whats wrong? Poverty and lack of infrastructure. Just 10 short years ago, more than half of Perus Olympic team was suffering from malnutrition. Practicing in crumbling stadiums, on ancient equipment, and with only some able to obtain uniforms, the athletes lined up for pasta doled out by the IOC. But not all Olympic hope has been lost in Lima. In May 2008, President Alan Garca threw his hat in the ring along with Chicago, Madrid, Doha, Prague, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, and Baku in a bid to host the 2016 Olympics. Trouble is, the deadline for applications had passed nine months earlier, and competing cities were already raising funds and building infrastructure. Undaunted, President Garca simply announced a week later that he would like to play host in 2020, saying Peru should think big.

*Note: Legally speaking, Taiwan is not a country, though it does maintain de facto independence.