Medal Counts — Bogus and Real

I’m as big a supporter of national pride as anyone, but the constant blaring of Olympic Medal Counts reminds me of that phrase “ugly American.” Since we fielded the biggest team by about 20%, and devote massive resources to sports, the statistic seems pretty crass. Raw volume numbers under those conditions are rarely a reflection of anything beyond size. I wondered whether there might be more fair ways to address medal performance.

As of Tuesday, the U.S. had won 85 medals, 28 gold. But how about if we adjust for the number of athletes, population, or resources? Numbers people would want to know these things. Craig Nevill-Manning has created a lovely site, medalspercapita.com, which did much of this work for me.

Medals Per…
When you start looking on an adjusted basis, small countries—with a small denominator—pop up at the top. (Also, note that a weighted medal count, with points for medal type, is most useful). Grenada with its one medal, a silver by the amazing Kirani James, leads with that one medal in medals per capita, per team size, and per GDP. Kirani won the 400 in London and was heavily favored; in one of the great races of these games, Wayde van Niekierk of South Africa blazed ahead of him and former Beijing champion LaShawn Merritt in world-record time, the only medal ever won by a runner in the outside lane, unable to see anyone behind him the entire race. James’s silver medal puts Grenada “tops” in several medal counts, when adjusted for size. Continue reading “Medal Counts — Bogus and Real”

Olympic Performance & the Four Year Interval

“They’re designed to copy human beings in every way except their emotions. The designers reckoned that after a few years, they might develop their own emotional responses: hate, love, fear, anger, envy. So they built in a fail-safe device.” (Police chief)
“Which is what?” (Deckard)
“Four year life span.” (Police chief)
Blade Runner

Four years is a long time. In Blade Runner, it was the entire lifetime for Replicants. Four years is an entire high school experience. Think about the different person you became between freshman and senior years; between entering and exiting college. What about how different you felt physically four years ago? How about the differences between when you were 20 and 24? 28? 32? The difference in physical ability and experience can feel like nearly a lifetime, and the difference between when you were clueless and when you knew better can make you a different person.

That interval drives competitive tension in the Olympics, continuously pitting rookies against the veterans, the ones who have had to wait that four year lifetime to return. The phenoms may not yet have a target on their backs  and may not have the pressure of a Sports Illustrated cover to live up to or the hopes of a nation, but they also may not know how to handle the normal butterflies of competition on this biggest world stage. Rookie nerves play into the misjudgment and errors can occur in that closing killer minute when the veteran zooms past in the bike race, leans forward to touch the wall first, or feints right and goes left to score.

Continue reading “Olympic Performance & the Four Year Interval”

CITIUS-ALTIUS-FORTIUS: Musing on why the Olympics Matter

The world needs a moment. After a turbulent year of crises and tragedies and an expletivey summer of political carping, we’re all exhausted. We need some kittens and Corgies and rainbows and plenty of stories of humans helping each other, overcoming odds in order to triumph and – lookee here – we have some of that coming right up. Sixteen days of glory should be just what we need.

Citius…Altius…Fortius – Faster. Higher. Stronger.
–The Olympic motto

The Olympics were created by the Greeks @776 BC to honor their gods and celebrate the human spirit of striving and achievement. They took their Muses seriously and incorporated inspiration into their everyday actions. When the Games took place, a truce was called while athletes from throughout the known world came to compete. Gee, that sounds like a good idea! Over time, the religious purity of the events tarnished somewhat and after several hundred years, the corruption and professionalization of athletes overshadowed the games, and suppression of the old religions by new Christian monarchs ended the games in 394 AD. But a thousand year ride ain’t bad. Continue reading “CITIUS-ALTIUS-FORTIUS: Musing on why the Olympics Matter”

PokeFrenzy: Social Crisis or Just a Walk in the Park?

The world these days seems to be divided between those who run toward and those who run away from Super Popular Trendiness. Some are always eager to follow the hordes and others always eager to stand apart. But often, people gravitate both ways, pulled strongly towards one pole then the other depending on interests, personality, craving for company, or available free time.

The Pokemon Go phenomenon is shining a spotlight on these two opposing views. Everyone starts talking about playing it; then suddenly everyone is talking how they are NOT going to participate. People are either enthusiastic or horrified; there doesn’t seem to be much of a reaction in between. And in our boom and bust communication cycles, a weekend of news about this games popularity is invariability followed by “world-ending” stories about car crashes, muggings, and even national security breaches attributed to li’l ol’ Pikachu. Continue reading “PokeFrenzy: Social Crisis or Just a Walk in the Park?”

Exit, Pursued by a Bear

Warning: Contains potential Spoilers from Shakespeare, A Christmas Carol, Pride & Prejudice, and Game of Thrones

20160720 ShakesBear

SF Shakespeare Fest, pikore.co #ShakesBear

It’s summer; it’s time for Shakespeare. There’s Shakespeare in the park, Shakespeare in your local theaters, and plenty at your local library. Go watch some! (although you have my permission to skip over Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Coriolanus, Titus Andronicus, and Australopithecus.) The library will surely have an excellent version A Midsummer Night’s Dream. How can you beat Titania in love with Bottom who has been transformed into a donkey… “methought I was enamoured of an ass….”?

Our favorite tales – the ones that resonate with our modern sensibilities – are stories of reconciliation and redemption. I recently watched an excellent version of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale under the stars that showed the power of people seeking and receiving true forgiveness stands at the heart of our most beloved stories.

We learned in school that Shakespeare wrote Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. For years, the way I remembered the comedies and tragedies were by the ending – people dead? Tragedy. Wedding? Comedy. Unless there’s “King” in the title, then it’s a History. Now, please note it was people who came after the playwright who created the categories. Shakespeare wrote whatever the hell he* wanted, then later on people grouped and interpreted and analyzed them ad nauseum. Many of the tragedies have funny elements and many of the comedies have very dark themes. Continue reading “Exit, Pursued by a Bear”