Rodger Baker and Zhixing Zhang
Olympics fans should expect Georgian athletes, the dollar signs flickering in their eyes, to fight madly for gold in London.
Of all countries, it was the cash-strapped Caucasus nation of Georgia that has offered the most lavish prize for gold medals -- $1.2 million per pop. A sum that makes this Georgian wish he'd taken those tennis lessons more seriously.
At first glance, though, you might not think that the country has millions of dollars to spare on the 2012 London Olympics. A recent triple whammy of heavy winds, hail and wind was described as "the largest disaster in Georgia since the 2008 conflict" with Russia.
Over half of the country's population is employed in a struggling agricultural sector and hundreds of thousands are economically vulnerable Internally Displaced People. It's a place where international development dollars have run strong, and where infrastructure improvement is an ongoing challenge. Any strong rain can cause massive damage to farm lands and turns the capital, Tbilisi, into a water park.
But never underestimate a Georgian sports fan.
The prize money on offer is more than twice the $510,000 promised by the second-most-generous athletic benefactor, Georgia's well-to-do neighbor, energy-rich Azerbaijan.
As RFE/RL points out, even one of the world's richest countries, the US, is only ponying up $25,000.
That said, Georgia's extreme largesse could be connected to its own upcoming sports event -- this October's parliamentary elections. Amidst a potent populist challenge from billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, the government being able to take some credit for several gold medals could come in handy. Once you're on a winning streak, you know
Nonetheless, there is some risk.
Georgian athletes do not usually sweep the boards in the Summer Olympics -- in 2008, they took home three gold medals; in judo, Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling -- but if they get really carried away this time, the Georgian government might need to borrow the prize money.
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Originally published by Eurasianet.org