Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Medal Count

The Olympic Games is not supposed to be about medal counts.  But it always has been and it always will be, so they might as well get it right.  Every paper you open, and even the official Vancouver media website, has a table like this one from this morning keeping track of the medal.

     Country                   Gold            Silver       Bronze       Total

United States 8             13             13           34
GermanyGermany                 9             11               7           27
CanadaCanada10               7                   4           21
NorwayNorway 8               6               6           20
AustriaAustria 4               5               6           15
RussiaRussia 3               5               7           15
South KoreaSouth Korea 6               6               2           14
ChinaChina 5               2               4           11
FranceFrance 2               3               5           10
SwedenSweden 5               2                   2             9

      My problem with this table is the Total.  They are assigning the same value to a bronze medal as to a silver medal, and the same to a silver as to a gold.  But as we all know, and as anyone who saw the U.S. women's hockey team in tears after they received their silver medal, while the Canadians were loutishly drinking beer and smoking cigars on the ice after getting their golds, all medals are not even close to being created equal.
  Should Sweden, with five golds, two silvers, and two bronzes, really be listed behind France, with only two golds, three silvers, and five bronzes?
          I'm told Olympic historian David Wallechinsky tracks who wins the medal race at the Olympics by listing them by gold medals accumulated, using silvers and bronzes as tiebreakers.  But that's equally non-sensical.  Canada's Joannie Rochette's bronze medal in figure skating was nearly as sweet as any gold.  Tiebreaker?  I don't think so.
      The solution?  A points system.
       What, then, is a gold medal worth, relative to a silver, relative to a bronze?
       Is one gold worth two silvers?  And one silver worth two bronzes?  If so, then it should be 4 pts. per gold, 2 per silver, 1 per bronze.  Then the current medal standings would look like this:

      Country                   Gold            Silver       Bronze       Total

United States 8             13             13           71
GermanyGermany                 9             11               7           65
CanadaCanada10               7                   4           58
NorwayNorway 8               6               6           50
AustriaAustria 4               5               6           32
RussiaRussia 3               5               7           27
South KoreaSouth Korea 6               6               2           38
ChinaChina 5               2               4           28
FranceFrance 2               3               5           19
       Sweden 5               2                   2           26

    South Korea would move ahead of Austria and Russia in the medal standings, China would pass Russia, and Sweden would move ahead of France.  All three of these changes would more accurately reflect their performances.   The top four countries wouldn't change their order under the 4, 2, 1 system.
        But is one gold really worth four bronzes?  Would an athlete rather have two silver medals, or one gold?
      It's a fair question.  I happen to think two silvers trumps one gold, and an athlete with three bronze medals can look a single gold medalist in the eye as an equal.   Hence a simple 3, 2, 1 system would be my preference.  That would mean the medal count would look like this:

  Country                   Gold            Silver       Bronze       Total

United States 8             13             13           63
GermanyGermany                 9             11               7           56
CanadaCanada10               7                   4           48
NorwayNorway 8               6               6           42
AustriaAustria 4               5               6           28
RussiaRussia 3               5               7           26
South KoreaSouth Korea 6               6               2           32
ChinaChina 5               2               4           23
FranceFrance 2               3               5           17
SwedenSweden 5               2                   2           21

  By this formula, South Korea again moves up two places, into 5th place overall, and Sweden again passes France.  But China remains in 8th place, and the top four places, again, don't change.  Easy to understand, simple to compute, and more accurately representative of the athlete's accomplishments.  As easy as 1, 2, 3.


  1. I'm convinced. Seems like an extremely logical ranking system. I am struggling to understand why this not the modern format? Why is everyone wedded to the current, nonsensical medal count?

  2. Your Olympic posts have been great -- thanks! This medal scoring system makes so much more sense than the way things are now. Hopefully it'll catch on sometime.