Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Random post-Olympic thoughts

For all the hand-wringing about the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia - fears of terrorism and rampant homophobia, horror stories about stray dogs being murdered en masse or hotel rooms without doorknobs or potable water - the games themselves were pretty uneventful.  Even the doping and judging scandals required of every Olympic Games were relatively muted. I even went the entire two weeks without bothering to write about NBC's lousy Olympics coverage, which is a first for me. 

A few thoughts about the final medal count:

Norway's winter athletics prowess is amazing. This is a nation of just over five million people. More people live in the Houston metropolitan area than live in that entire country. Yet Norway came in third in the overall medal count with 26 medals, including 11 golds. I did the math and determined that that is one medal per approximately 198 thousand Norwegians. The United States, by comparison, won one medal per 11.3 million Americans, while Russia won one medal per every 4.3 million Russians, Canada won one medal for every 1.4 million Canadians, and China won one medal per every 150 million Chinese. I know Norwegians love their winter sports, but that is a remarkable statistic.

Other nations with low medal-to-population ratios include Slovenia (one medal per every  257 thousand people), Austria (one medal per every 479 thousand people) and Latvia (one medal per every 500 thousand people).

The Netherlands, on the other hand, had the most efficient participating athletes. The Dutch team consisted of 41 athletes and won 24 medals. That's 1.7 athletes per medal; Norway, by comparison, had 5.2 athletes per medal, while Russia had 7.0 athletes per medal and the United States had 8.2 athletes per medal.

Speaking of The Netherlands, has any country dominated a Winter Olympics sport as thoroughly as they dominated speedskating? Conversely, has any team in the history of the Winter Olympics ever won so many medals in spite of being so one-dimensional? Of their 24 medals, which was good enough for fifth place in the overall medal count, 23 of them were won in speedskating (they won 64% of the medals awarded in that sport; the United States, on the other hand, won 0%) Their one other medal? Short track skating.

The United States, for its part, did okay, ending up with 28 medals in spite of generally disappointing results in ice skating and speed skating. This was good for second place in the overall medal count, including nine golds. Twelve of those medals were in freestyle skiing and snowboarding events, however, which leads one to wonder how well Team USA would have done if these "extreme" sports had not been recently added to the Olympics.

On the other hand, what happened to Germany's Olympic team? Since reunifying in 1990, Germany has competed in seven winter Olympics and until now has proven itself to be a wintertime powerhouse: in the six previous Olympics, Germany averaged 29 medals per games and never ended up lower than third in the overall medal standings. In Sochi, the Germans ended up with a total of 19 medals and only 6th in the standings.

Am I the only person who finds it surprising that neither Chile nor Argentina has ever won a single medal in the Winter Olympics? Both nations have multiple high-quality winter sports facilities in the Andes, which attract winter athletes from the rest of the world who want to train and practice during the northern hemisphere summer/southern hemisphere winter. Neither country has been able to convert this resource into Olympic performance, however. Australia, on the other hand, came away with three medals from these games, in spite of the fact that there are no winter sports facilities of any type in that country; it rarely snows Down Under.

The biggest non-sports story of the games was probably the incident where the protest band Pussy Riot was attacked by Cossacks with horsewhips while trying to film a music video. Only in Russia.

Finally: is it just me, or has the novelty of the Jamaican boblsed team worn off?

For more thoughts on the final count, see USA Today's For The Win blog.

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