Thursday, August 02, 2012

A little Olympics geography...

So. I'm still watching the Olympics. Men's indoor volleyball, currently.

What I've been thinking about, however, is geography. Last time I took a geography class, about 10 years ago or so, I did really well. And so, during last week's Opening Ceremonies, while the athletes filed into the stadium, I played the game I always do: Where's That Nation. And I could locate most of them, at least to continent and general location within that continent. Or, body of water, in the case of island nations. I should be able to do that. In that geography class I just mentioned, we had to memorize the locations of all the world's nations. We were tested on them, so it wasn't just an idle exercise.

I recognized the names of nearly all the nations in the parade on Friday. There were four, however, which were a mystery to me. Never heard of them. Really. Never, as far as I could remember. Yeah, I did really well on that map test in geography. I did not get 100 percent.

So, I sat down and looked up the four nations I hadn't recognized. Now that I have done that, I understand why I hadn't heard of them, at least in relation to that geography class. Or, three of them, at least. Three out of the four are located in the Pacific Ocean. In class, we were not required to learn every little island nation in the Pacific. The fourth nation that I didn't recognize is in West Africa. I must not have been paying enough attention when I was memorizing the African nations.

The three Pacific Ocean nations that I didn't recognize the names of were the Republic of Kiribati, the Republic of Nauru, and Tuvalu. Kiribati is the largest of the three, with 313 square miles of atolls and a raised coral island scattered over 1,351,500 square miles of ocean in the central tropical Pacific. It has a population of just over 103,000, as of a 2010 estimate. It sent three athletes to the Olympics this year.

Kiribati is absolutely huge compared to the other two Pacific nations I didn't recognize. The Republic of Nauru is an island nation in Micronesia, located just 26 miles south of the equator. It covers 8.1 square miles and is the world's smallest republic. A July 2011 estimate put its population at 9,378, with only Vatican City having a smaller population among sovereign states in the world. The other Pacific nation in question is Tuvalu, 10 square miles in area, located about halfway between Hawaii and Australia, and with an estimated 10,544 residents. But, even with these small populations, Nauru sent two athletes to the Games, while Tuvalu sent three.

Notably, Tuvalu is the second least-elevated nation in the world, with it's highest point at 15 feet above sea level. Only the Maldives, in the Indian Ocean, are lower, with that nation's highest point at 7 feet, 10 inches above sea level. It is interesting to note, too, that one of the titles Queen Elizabeth II of England holds is Queen of Tuvalu, as the monarch of that member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

The African nation I didn't recognize, Togo, is considerably larger in both area and population, covering an area of 21,925 square miles between Ghana and Benin in West Africa. It has a population of 6,619,000. Out of that population, Togo sent six athletes to the Games. French is still the official language of Togo, reflecting its history as a French colony, but there are a number of indigenous languages spoken there, and over 50 percent of its inhabitants still practice indigenous religious, although about 20 percent of the population practices Islam and 29 percent claim Christianity as their religion. Togo won its independence from France in 1960.

Another of my geekdoms, as you may have noticed, is geography. I learned the joy of geography and map-reading at my father's knee. So, I feel kind of disappointed in myself that I didn't know anything about any of the nations I've written about here. But they are not the only participants in the Games that have interesting stories to tell about their geography and inhabitants. I could have gone on for several more paragraphs about the very small European states that are represented in the Olympics. I mean, the city-state of Monaco is less than a square mile in area and still sent six athletes to the games.

But I've gone long enough for tonight. I started writing while volleyball was on, there was some gymnastics in there somewhere, and some swimming. It's almost time to go out and put the trash can out at the curb.

And, hey, there are still more Olympics to watch.

No comments: