America: Home of the fair-weather fan

Before Michael Phelps took the Olympic stage by storm, interest in swimming was non-existent. | Courtesy of CPacker/WikiMedia Commons

As the Olympics approach every four years, many Americans across the country — in bars and at the office — claim just how much they enjoy the games, but would they like them as much if America wasn’t as dominate?

It seems that the hottest sport during the Summer Olympics is the one in which Americans rack up the most medals.

Going back to the 1970s, track and field was the most prevalent sport with the decathlon as the premiere event. Decathlete Bruce Jenner earned a god-like status after his gold finish at the 1976 Olympics. It would come as no surprise if the majority of America’s most hardcore fans didn’t even know that American Ashton Eaton took gold in the event the past two Olympics.

While track is still popular today, the attention has floated towards gymnastics and swimming, where Simone Biles, Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps accounted for 16 total medals, which was 13 percent of the U.S. total. Although some of the blame for the shift can be attributed to the stations that televise the events and dictate programming, Americans will still gravitate towards what our athletes are good at.

And even despite the dominance at this year’s games, — America had 51 more medals than the next closest country — viewership is down from the 2012 London Olympics. As the two most dominant American sports, swimming and gymnastics, were ending, it seemed as if American fans were focusing on the “controversies” that occurred, as their interest level in the remaining competitions started to wane.

With the possibility of Phelps and Biles not returning in 2020, which sport(s) will Americans gravitate toward next? I suspect that it will be whichever sport our athletes have the greatest potential of earning the most medals in.

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