I would also adress that I think some of you forget how much influence it can have on a sport in a country to have a dominant athlete. Do some of you honestly think figure skating would have been THAT popular in the USA if it had not been for Michelle Kwan? (It probably helped that she came right after the Harding/Kerrigan incident.) Not only that, but along with Michelle Kwan came a bunch of fabulous teenagers, and the USA totally dominated the sport. Now the USA have no one (not factoring Ashley's recent success here). No ladies. No men.
Recently I watched some vidoes from the world championships in Nagano in 2002 and it was evident that there were several seats available. At that time Japan only had Fumie Suguri and Takeshi Honda. Look at Japan now. Their skaters dominate both men and ladies and there are butts in every seat at every competition.
I think most of you neglect how much influence athletes' ability to gain medals mean for the popularity of a sport in a country.