The United States: Bad at Sports?
After the U.S. lost to Ghana in the World Cup yesterday (on which more later), one theme running through the commentary was that our lack of World Cup success should not be a surprise because the U.S. just does not care that much about soccer. But is it really true that the U.S. does well in sports that it actually cares about? Let’s look at the evidence:
First, there are the sports that other countries care passionately about, that we don’t care about at all -- cricket, rugby, Formula One racing. We suck at all of these.
Second, the sports that no one cares about except us -- American football and NASCAR. I’m not aware of any international competitions in these sports, but let’s concede that we would dominate them if they existed.
Third, the sports that no one cares all that much about except during the Olympics. Here, our record is a mixed bag:
- Track and Field -- good at sprinting, bad at distance running.
- Swimming -- pretty good.
- Gymnastics -- competitive, but getting worse.
- Ice Skating -- good at women’s, bad at men’s and pairs.
- Skiing -- good at snowboarding and freestyle, mediocre at downhill, bad at Nordic.
Finally, sports that we care about that other countries also care about:
- Basketball -- 6th in the World Championships in 2002, 3rd at the Olympics in 2004. (The U.S. Women still seem to be dominant.)
- Baseball -- did not make the Olympics in 2004; did not make the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic in 2006. (The U.S. Women still seem to be dominant in softball.)
- Hockey -- did not make the semifinals of the 2005 World Hockey Championship or the 2006 Winter Olympics. U.S. Women won bronze in 2006.
- Golf -- We have some of the best players in the world, but only 3 of the top 10 men and 4 of the top 10 women in the world rankings. We haven’t won the Ryder cup since 1999.
- Tennis -- We have 2 of the top 10 men (Roddick and Blake), and 1 of the top 10 women (Davenport). The last male U.S. player to win a major was Andy Roddick in 2003. The U.S. women who have played well in recent years are fading, with no clear replacements on the horizon.
In conclusion, despite our image of ourselves as an athletic powerhouse, we are actually net importers of sporting excellence. Also, Australia kicks ass.