Alternatives to overall medal counts

I touched on this a bit in a previous post. It might be only because Bob Costas mentioned that the host city gets a 50% boost in the medal count, but I’d like to get a serious discussion on this.

Medal counts! A relic of the Cold War! And really, there really wasn’t much point other than that, as the vast majority of nations were lucky to get even 3 or 4, and they weren’t about to feel awful because someone else happened to do a lot better. Wealth, pool of athletes, priority placed on Olympics, priority of sports in general, quality of facilities, so many factors. Well, guess what, we’ve completely left the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in the dust, and China is going to have to start earning it again. We’ve triumphed. We’re number one. Enough is enough.

Others have mentioned (rightfully) that certain sports have more medals than others due to different lengths, formats, rules, etc. Even before Michael Phelps, multiple-medal swimmers were fairly common. Remember that sprinter (don’t recall the name) who said she wanted to win 5 gold medals in a single Olympics and actually came pretty close (3 gold, 2 bronze)? That’s the same total Ryoko Tani, arguably the greatest judoka ever, garnered for all five of her Olympiads (2 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze). Now, I’m not arguing that medal-heavy events aren’t legitimate…they are…but there’s no question that they really skew things.

Likewise, subjective events. Look…Canada went through a horrendous slump in hockey. Germany’s glory days of swimming came and went. And at this point I don’t have to remind you of the roller coaster ride American basketball has been since our first legitimate defeat in 1988. There is no such thing as eternal unchallenged dominance. So how is it that you can count on Russia and Romania contending in gymnastics? Every. Single. Time. (China can be hit or miss, but in general they’re up there as well.) Don’t tell me that they don’t make mistakes or have a better work ethic. Look, I don’t know if its favoritism, or fear of reprisals, or the judges just liking them more, or what, but I know for certain that this does NOT happen in an honest sport. And frankly, it doesn’t strike me as something to be proud of, any more than those stupid participation trophies*.

And then there’s corruption. To give just a random example: Korea. 1988. Boxing. (Heck, at this point any gold medal by a Korean should be suspect, unless it’s in something they’re supposed to dominate [taekwondo] or have made a concerted effort to have an excellent showing in [taekwondo]).

This is the information age. We have the means of making numerous different breakdowns and putting them in a clear, understandable format. Why not separate medal counts by discipline? So you have the swimming count, the weightlifting count, the athletics count, the rowing count, etc. Further breakdowns could be made for individual vs. team events, styles (e.g. snatch / clean and jerk), etc.

Not only would it properly keep events with serious issues from skewing the results (including things like equestrian where the horse is the real athlete), it’d give a much clearer picture of who’s good at what. And anytime there was an incorrect (or in Olympic parlance, “controversial”) result, we could point it out and debate it rather than the result being buried amidst all the nation’s other medals.

Besides, I think it would be just plain good and honest if each sport were judged individually and on its own merits. If we acknowledge that these sports are different, and that there’s nothing at all wrong with that, that could clear up a lot of tension right there.

Anyone got any other ideas?

  • Do these still exist? I got a few participation certificates for various things, but never a trophy. I’d think that most organizations would think it not worth the bother.

Have “we”, and are “we” ? Looks like “we” can just group all the gold, silver and bronze under “We” – problem solved.

Canada didn’t go through a slump; Canada wasn’t allowed to compete. For most of Olympic history, Canada wasn’t even permitted to send its best hockey players because they were professionals, while Soviet and Eastern Bloc professionals were allowed to compete through the convenient fiction that they were really soldiers. Canada ended up boycotting Olympic hockey a few times.

Okay, fine. But see, my point again…keep the count separate from all the other events (or in a case like this, simply give the results since there are only two sets of medals, one men’s and one women’s), and they don’t get buried. You can see the results and discuss them. An overall medal count doesn’t show that.

An alternative is counting the number of gold medals per capita. My zealously patriotic Hungarian grandpa prefers this method, for reasons that become obvious if you took the time to look it up. :stuck_out_tongue:

You could just try to go with expected medal counts vs. actual medals. The expected number would be based on pre-olympics world rankings, etc. Maybe add a stat for highest possible medal count based on how many athletes a country has competing.

Maybe also take into account that some athletes can win 8 medals by doing slightly different events for slightly different distances… while others play in a team for two weeks to get a single medal.

This covers pretty much everything:

Re the question of unequal number of medals in different sports, you could try something like “proportion of available medals in the sport”, so that winning the woman’s basketball, say, would count as 50% of a sport, since there are only two gold medals available in basketball. While to achieve 50% in rowing you’d need to win seven golds. But that assumes that all sports are as “big” as each other, which I’m not sure is satisfactory either. Personally, I would consider winning 50% of athletics events, say, to be more significant than winning one basketball tournament.