The coverage of the Olympics has led one to believe that the only rivalries that matter are the U.S. vs. China and, to a certain extent, Michael Phelps vs. Ryan Lochte. However, I personally believe the rivalry to watch is Great Britain vs. Australia. Here are four reasons why:
Both the Brits and the Aussies have finished in the top 10 or 15 in the medal count in most Summer Olympics. Though the Aussies won more medals than the Brits in 2000 (as hosts) and 2004, Britain beat them in the medal count in 2008.
Of course, to be fair, this is also an attraction of the U.S.-China rivalry
Good in the Same Sports
The U.S.-China rivalry is criticized for the lack of the two being good in the same sports. The U.S. isn’t big into badminton; China isn’t big into track or basketball.
By contrast, almost all the sports Australia is good at were introduced to them by the British—specifically, British military officers and Oxbridge “blues." These include field hockey, cycling, rowing and riding—all sports in which both countries (and New Zealand as well) are strong.
Furthermore, Great Britain and Australia are participants in almost every team sport at the Olympics. This is due to the fact that Britain automatically qualifies for most team sports as host, and Australia has an easy road to continental qualification in most sports (namely, just beat New Zealand a couple of times).
What's the rivalry to watch at this year's Olympics?
In a number of sports, such as both men’s and women’s basketball, the Brits and Aussies are drawn into the same pool.
Australia is a member of the Commonwealth. The Union Jack appears on the Australian flag. Queen Elizabeth is technically Queen of Australia.
Though there are a few Chinese-American athletes and a lot of Chinese-made American sports apparel, there just isn’t the same cultural connection between the U.S. and China that there is between Britain and Australia.
Face it: The U.S.-China rivalry isn’t that historic. China PRC first took to the field in the 1980 Winter Olympics and 1984 Summer Olympics (ironically, both hosted in the U.S.) and 2008 is the only time the U.S. and China went one-two in the medal count.
By contrast, the Great Britain-Australia rivalry has been going since 1896. Yes, that includes 1980, as they are two of only four countries (Greece and Switzerland) to participate in every Summer Olympics.
Bottom line: Australia vs. Great Britain is the rivalry you should be watching.