This week in South Korean island-related political stunts

It's been a week of high-profile political stunts surrounding the disputed volcanic islands that are known in Korea as Dokdo, in Japan as Takeshima, but will be referred to for the purposes of this post as the Liancourt Rocks. Last Friday, Lee Myung-bak -- gearing up for a presidential election in December -- became the first South Korean president to ever visit the rocks, prompting Tokyo to recall its ambassador from Seoul.

Then, things spilled over onto the football pitch when South Korea defeated Japan in Friday's bronze-medal match:

The International Olympic Committee is temporarily withholding a bronze medal from a South Korean football player who displayed a political sign after a win against Japan.

Midfielder Park Jong-woo brandished a banner referring to islands claimed by both South Korea and Japan.

The IOC barred him from taking part in Saturday's medal ceremony.

Now, a group of South Koreans are swimming to the Liancourts:

More than 40 South Koreans have begun a relay swim of more than 200km (124 miles) to islands also claimed by Japan amid a serious diplomatic row between the two neighbours.

The team of swimmers, led by South Korean singer Kim Jang-hoon, plan to reach the islands on Wednesday, which marks the anniversary of the country's liberation from Japan in 1945.

"Dokdo belongs to the Republic of Korea, so we will shout, 'Go for it with the Republic of Korea,'" Mr Kim told reporters before the swim began.

As if that wasn't enough:

In another apparent statement on the islands, South Korea has also revealed plans to name a group of spindle trees on the island as a national monument, Yonhap news agency reports.

There are only two permanent residents on the islands -- an elderly Korean fisherman and his wife -- but there are potential energy deposits in the area, not to mention national pride at stake. This week's gestures are actually fairly mild. In 2005, after a Japanese prefecture declared a "Takeshima day," a South Korean mother and son sliced off their fingers outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul to protest.

(The photo above is from a fashion show held on nearby Ulleung island to promote South Korean sovereignty over the Liancourts on Aug. 10.)

KIM MI-OCK/AFP/Getty Images


The USSR would have dominated this Olympics

Vladimir Putin once famously said that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the 20th century. That may not be true, but from the Kremlin's point of view, it was inarguably an Olympic catastrophe.

Russia finished the 2012 Olympics with a respectable 82 total medals (putting it in third place behind the U.S. and China) and 24 golds (putting it in fourth behind Britain). But what if things had turned out differently in the early 1990s and the Soviet Union were still intact? Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Belarus all put in strong showings at the games. In fact, 13 of the 15 former Soviet states got at least one medal, including just the third ever* for tiny Tajikistan. (Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan failed to medal.)

If you add up all 13 countries you get 163 medals -- well ahead of the U.S. total of 104. The USSR would have been awarded 46 golds -- tied with the red, white, and blue. With 16.9 percent of the total medals, the hypothetical Soviet Union would have nearly tied the real Soviet Union's haul of 17.8 percent in 1988. 


(It would have been an indisputable victory if Belarusian shot-putter Nadzeya Ostapchuk hadn't been stripped of her medal after testing positive for an anabolic steroid today.)

Back in the world of currently existing countries, the Olympic prediction models I wrote about before the games all had the correct top 4, though China and Britain got many more medals than expected. Australia, which normally punches above its weight at the games, was probably the biggest surprise on the negative end. 

*Correction, Aug. 13, 2012: The original post incorrectly stated that Tajikistan won its first medal at this year's Olympics. It actually won two at the 2008 Olympics.