Officially, the Olympic Games are between “athletes, not countries,” said The Washington Post’s Postmark Beijing blog. Unofficially, the Olympic medal count is the most hotly contested event of all. China has collected 43 gold medals so far, with the U.S. in second place with 26. But if Americans end up winning more total medals, including silvers and bronzes, the debate over who really triumphed will continue beyond the closing ceremony.

China is clearly the big success story, said John Powers in The Boston Globe. “By now, the Chinese national anthem has been played so often at the Games of the XXIXth Olympiad that most foreign spectators probably can hum it from memory.” And there’s no secret to their gold haul—Chinese athletes get a charge from the roaring home crowd, and their country’s “relentless focus” on multi-medal sports, especially on the women’s side, is paying off.

That just shows that counting medals is meaningless, said Joel Stein in Sixteen gold medals are being handed out to canoeists—canoeists!—in Beijing. "To be fair, under the current system, the basketball team should be having competitions in three-point shooting, dunking, rebounding, passing, that halftime trampoline thing," and "T-shirt cannon-blasting."

Winning any gold is still a huge accomplishment, said the Rochester, N.Y., Democrat and Chronicle in an editorial, but “the Games are more than that.” Swimmer Michael Phelps’ record of eight gold medals, and 41-year-old swimmer Dara Torres’ destruction of “myths about age, motherhood and athleticism” were awe-inspiring feats every American can be proud of, even if China piles up more medals.

A lovely sentiment, said Brad Townsend in The Dallas Morning News’ Olympics blog, but it won’t stop many in the U.S. from being disappointed. The last time we failed to win the overall medal count and the gold medal race was 1992, to the Unified Team. “Not that America is raising the white flag”—the setbacks in Beijing could fuel a call for government funding to make our Olympic training system stronger.

"Pity the government that actually believes there is a great, lasting currency in a medal race" that will quickly be forgotten, said Harvey Araton in The New York Times. "China is still recovering from an earthquake. The United States is fighting wars. Outside the rings, the hurdles run a lot longer than 110 meters."