While watching the Olympics, these are the things that came to my attention.
USA is the third most populace country in the world-- ~306 million, China is first with ~1.3 billion, India is second with ~1.2 billion people. There's a big drop from second to third in quantity. USA has the highest total metal count of all nations. China has the most gold metals. As of this morning, India has a total of 2 metals (1 gold/1 bronze). USA and China had 93 and 83, respectively. Furthermore, many of the athletes from other countries train in the USA through collegiate sports and other programs. One final observation, American athletes, for the most part, are self-funded rather than state-funded. For example, the parents of gold-medal gymnist Shawn Johnson mortgaged their home to fund their daughter's Olympic dreams. And, this isn't a unique situation. Given the chance to ask each American athlete the same question, the responses would be uniform: funds came from corporate and private sponsors, athletic scholarships, part-time jobs, and financial sacrifices. Such is the life of an American athlete.
On the other hand, athletes from other countries (i.e. China, Russia, Germany, Canada, etc) have the benefit of state-funded resources to get them along. I'm not saying they have it easier or better. At the end of the day, the podium is reserved for the fastest, strongest, and best. This is just an observation.
So, what can we conclude from these observations? I don't know...Maybe the same dream that has brought so many to America is alive and well and manifest in America's contribution to the Olympics both in medal-count and athletes influenced. Maybe a developed nation like the USA has the freedom and opportunity to pursue athletics as opposed to India whose focus is elsewhere. Sadly, because of economic resources and state-selection criteria, there may be some extremely gifted humans that will never swim a meter, run a dash, pedal a bike, or throw a ball. The world's best marathoner may be deep in Myanmar doing what she can to provide food and safety for her children. We'll never know.
What I do know is I can't get enough of the Olympics--Beach Volleyball, Table Tennis, Badmitton, or Diving. Bring it on! Only once every four years do "fringe" sports get prime-time network coverage. During this time we get a small glimpse into differnt sports' sub-cultures (other than cycling and triathlon for myself). It's great. I find myself saying, "maybe when I retire for doing Ironmans, maybe I'll start archery."