LONDON – Bangladesh is home to more than 152 million people, making it the eighth most populated country in the world, yet its Olympic futility is so bad it makes one wonder if a statistical mistake has been made.
Bangladesh, sandwiched between northeastern Indian and Myanmar, has never won a single medal at the Olympic Games and is unlikely to do anything to change that tortured record over the next few weeks.
But it is not even the total lack of hardware that is the most telling sign of failure for this nation whose primary national sporting obsession, cricket, is not in the Games. Not that it would likely do much for the medal count anyway – it is ranked ninth out of the nine teams that play at cricket's highest level.
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Of the International Olympic Committee's 204 members, 80 have never medaled. Many of the nations are tiny by comparison, although Myanmar (the world's 25th most populated country) and Nepal (45th) are also on the medal-free list.
Meanwhile, Tonga (195th in population) has an Olympic silver, Barbados (181st) a bronze and Iceland (178th) two of each. The Bahamas, ranked 177th, has excelled with 10 total medals, four of them gold.
Perhaps most extraordinary about Bangladesh is not its dearth of medals, but that it has never had an athlete qualify for an Olympics based on performance in competition.
Every one of the country's representatives, stretching back to 1984, has been courtesy of the IOC's wildcard system, devised to assist competitors from nations low on the international sports pecking order.
That is the case again for London, where a four-strong Bangladesh team featuring an archer, a gymnast, a shooter and a swimmer will march in the Opening Ceremony, all of them thanks to the wildcard allotment.
The gymnast is Syque Caesar, an American born in Florida to Bangladesh parents and with dual citizenship. Caesar may be the most accomplished athlete Bangladesh has ever brought to a Games, having won an NCAA teams title at the University of Michigan and won parallel bars gold at the Central South Asian Championships.
Caesar's participation was only made possible through bizarre circumstances: The Indian federation failed to correctly file the paperwork for its gymnast Ashish Kumar on time, and Caesar was next in line to accept the wildcard position.
It will be a significant moment of pride for the 21-year-old, whose Wolverine colleague and roommate Sam Mikulak will represent the U.S.
"Bangladesh loves sports," Caesar told the BBC. "My father used to play for the national soccer team, and soccer was the country's main passion. That died down and now the country loves cricket.
"Gymnastics isn't really such a popular sport around the globe anyway, but hopefully I'll be the guy that kick-starts a program in the country."
Bangladesh's Olympic woes are viewed as serious by the government, so much so that the topic has been raised in the national parliament. Extra funding has been allocated to develop talent in a range of sports, although progress will be a gradual, long-term process.
"Bangladesh is willing to do everything to get as many athletes as it can to the Olympics," Caesar said. "But having the resources to prepare athletes for the Games is quite new for them."
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