By David Wharton, Tribune Olympic Bureau
6:13 PM EDT, August 12, 2012
LONDON — The age-old rivalry between Australia and Britain has provided one of the more entertaining subplots at the 2012 London Olympics.
Before the competition began, Australian diver Matthew Mitcham summed up the animosity between the nations, using slang to describe the British athletes.
"I think we always want to stick it to the Poms," he said.
But words mean little at the Games — the medal count has the final say.
By that tally, the home team won convincingly — 65 to 35 — and Australia ended up as one of several countries that walked away at least slightly disappointed.
Kenya came up short on the track and Cuba continued a long, downward slide. The Germans, despite a Top-10 finish overall, got shut out in swimming.
On the flipside, there was reason to suspect that a long-overlooked nation might be on the rise.
"India," said Olympic historian David Wallechinsky. "Watch out for India."
Counting medals is the true final event of the Olympic Games. While the U.S. and China battled for the top spot, and Britain enjoyed the traditional home-team surge, other teams fought to climb the rankings. Fans and the media were bound to make comparisons.
Wallechinsky cautions against rash judgments. Nations can stumble or soar, then reverse course four years later.
But there was real cause for concern around the Australian contingent during the first week of competition, when the team was mired in 24th place on the medals count with only one gold.
This was a nation that had won 58 medals when it hosted the 2000 Summer Games.
Australia staged a comeback in the second week with seven golds and 35 medals in total. Better than New Zealand, but far worse than Britain. And certainly not up to par.
"When it happens once, it can be just a glitch," said Wallechinsky. "When it happens two times in a row, it's a problem."
Which means that Cuban officials should be worried.
Their team finished the London Games with 14 medals. The total represented a fourth consecutive decrease since the 2000 Summer Olympics, when the Cubans had 29.
Baseball — one of the country's strongest sports — is no longer a part of the Olympic program. In track and field and boxing, events where Cubans used to excel, they won only two golds.
As Wallechinsky pointed out, "their boxing has been decimated by defections."
The Kenyans won 11 medals on the track but came up short of their numbers from four years ago and stumbled badly in the marquee 1,500-meter race, where defending champion Asbel Kiprop finished last.
India was similarly dissatisfied with its showing in field hockey, the national sport. But the country managed six medals in London and competed well in a number of events.
"There is a lot of interest back home," said Deepika Kumari, a highly ranked archer who lost in the round of 16 in individual competition and led the women's team to the quarterfinals.
Despite the country's relatively low medal total, Wallechinsky sees the possibility of better days ahead.
"Obviously, they have the population," he said. "Now they have an economy."
If things get much better, they might have to start worrying about the medal count.