The 2018 Winter Olympics may have been held in PyeongChang, South Korea, but they absolutely belonged to Norway. The Scandinavian country of 5 million people utterly dominated the games with 39 total medals (including 14 golds). Germany came in second with 31 medals (14 golds), while Canada came in third with 29 medals (11 golds). The United States ended up with 4th place with 23 medals, including 9 golds.
This is the lowest medal haul for Team USA since 1998, and is reflective of what for at least the first half of the games was a poor performance by the Americans. Team USA did manage a late rally to at least make a respectable showing; that rally included, notably, USA's first-ever medal in womens cross county skiing, the womens hockey team besting Canada for the gold medal for the first time since 1998, and the US Curling Team's improbable comeback to win the county's first gold medal in the sport. And before we spend too much time criticizing Team USA for underachieving, it's worth remembering that, before the advent of the so-called "extreme sports," the United States pretty much sucked at the Winter Olympics. At the Winter Olympics in Calgary 30 years ago, for example, the United States won a grand total of 6 (!) medals.
The Netherlands came in sixth with 20 total medals, because speedskating. Rounding out the top ten were Sweden, South Korea, Switzerland, France and Austria.
Honorable mentions go to a handful of countries that don't usually figure in winter sports: Both Spain and New Zealand won two medals in PyeongChang, the first time either country has medaled since 1992. Hungary won their first medal since 1980 and their first gold medal ever in the Winter Olympics. Belgium won its first medal in twenty years, and little Liechtenstein won its first medal in 30 years.
Tina Weirather's bronze medal in the Womens Super-G, in fact, was enough to give Liechtenstein the highest number of medals per capita, according to this handy website, with one medal per (the beautiful - and expensive - Alpine principality's total population of) 37,531 inhabitants. Norway came in second, winning one medal per every 133,228 inhabitants, while Switzerland came in third, with one medal per every 552,465 inhabitants. The United States came in 24rd, winning one medal per every 13,974,731 inhabitants. Those rankings don't change significantly if you re-rank the medals by weight. Lichtenstein also tops the rankings of medals per GDP, simply because the microstate is ridiculously rich; Norway comes in second on that list as well, while Belarus comes in third and the United States comes in 25th.
Ecuador entered the Winter Olympics for the first time, with a single athlete: cross-country skier Klaus Jungbluth came in 112th (out of 116th) in the Mens 15-Kilometer Freestyle, beating out the famous Shirtless Tongan by two spots. Despite finishing poorly, Ecuador can now claim as many medals in the Winter Olympics as Chile or Argentina (both of who have at least some winter sports infrastructure): zero.
Finally, a follow up from my previous post, wherein I actually gave some praise to NBC's Olympics coverage. Apparently, I'm not the only person who thinks they did better job this time around. It's enough to make Vox's Todd VanDerWerff at least somewhat optimistic about 2020:
None of this suggests that NBC is off the hook forever. The 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo will have many of the same benefits of the 2018 Games, especially when it comes to an advantageous time differential with the US. But the Summer Olympics, where the US is generally more likely to sit atop or near the top of the medal count, often lead NBC to chase its own worst impulses of relentlessly pushing predetermined narratives. (It also won’t help that the Summer Games often schedule major events — especially in track and field — for the cooler evening hours, which will be the early morning in most of the US.)
But I’m choosing to let the 2018 Olympics give me hope that NBC is finally addressing some of its most persistent criticisms. The network still has a long way to go, and it has to stop assuming that the best way to tell human stories at the games is via packaged profiles straight out of Dateline, rather than letting those human stories unfold in the midst of the competition itself. But maybe the network is moving in the right direction at long last. We’ll find out in two and a half years.On to Tokyo...