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,, 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”

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”