Intellectual History had a post on the Olympic games, which got me to thinking about the changes I've seen over the years, both in the Olympics and sports more generally. One of the changes is in the title. Flowing Data has a "streamgraph" showing the distribution of medals among nations over the history of the Olympics.
One of things not often remembered about post-WWII history was how competitive we (i.e., the US) felt about our position in the world and how challenging the USSR seemed to be. We competed in heavy industry: tons of steel poured and tons of coal mined. And beginning in 1952 we competed in the Olympics: the Soviets burst onto the scene in 1952 and caused great angst. Then the East Germans added to our tension in 1968 and especially 1972--our dominance was slipping. Our free enterprise, amateur-based system just couldn't keep up with the state-organized and subsidized systems of the Soviets and East Germans. Changes had to be made. That at least was a strong reaction after every Olympic games for many years.