Saturday, October 6, 2007

Counting, Counting, Counting

For those of you old enough to remember the Cold War, you'll remember how Olympics were covered back then. All statistics boiled down to one - the number of medals for the good guys vs. the number of medals for the bad guys. Even though we knew that the bad guys were all doped up, but that the good guys were all pure, we still kept up with that statistic.

In the post Cold War era, that particular comparison has gone away, but we're still into medal counting. Although people say that there are different ways to count medals:

The "Biggest winner is US athletics"...proclaimed the Miami Herald writing the "United States claimed 103 medals in Athens and proved it is still a dominant athletic force." True, the United States was the leader in overall medal count--11 more than second place Russia and 40 more than China who placed third. Count another way though and the United States placed a dismal 38th out of 75 medal scoring countries.

Instead of counting the total number of medals, if countries are scored by the number of medals per capita the tiny island nation of the Bahamas would win....The Bahamas earned one medal per 150,000 people. In contrast the United States won...only one medal for every 2.84 million people. Other medal powerhouses by population include Estonia, Cuba, Australia, Slovenia and Latvia with medals per 330,000 to 500,000 people.

Among the 75 countries awarded medals, the last place country was India with just one medal for 1.065 billion people. The 2008 Olympic host country China also scored poorly when ranked by population. Despite its second place in total medals, China ranked 5th from the last with just one medal per 21 million people.

If we're not counting countries, we're counting individual medals. Remember how Marion Jones wanted to win five gold medals in a single Olympic Games? Well, one of her former relay teammates has a medal count also:

[I]n all [Merlene Ottey has] collected 10 individual and four relay medals in world championship competition, five more than the nearest competitor on the list of multiple medallists, American Jearl Miles Clark, who’s won nine.

Of course, as I previously noted, there are arguments for (and against) reducing Jearl Miles Clark's medal count by one.

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