The Olympics are almost a week in the rearview mirror, and now that there is some room for hindsight it is time to finally gauge the truly important, jingoistic matters that prevail when discussing the Olympics:
Which country did the best?!
It is a perpetual dilemma when discussing the Olympics, whether Winter or Summer. While the primary purpose is ostensibly to celebrate the great physical feats of which the body is capable, the talk inevitably turns eventually toward the battle of nation versus nation. Athletes to whom many nations (such as the United States) pay scant attention for three years and 50 weeks suddenly become slobbering fanatics of unfamiliar sports for a fortnight.
And it is because it always comes back to that question of bragging rights, of national supremacy, that we get this outsized attention given to the Olympics. People who don’t give a damn about even NHL hockey suddenly become enamored with the Oshies of the sport thanks to the colors they wear and the land they represent. Sports fans who would otherwise not know their Loch from their Stoch spend two weeks immersed in following the action down icy chutes and off long jumps.
The World Cup calendar of each of these winter sports — and, yes, every winter sport does have an annual circuit of events in which athletes compete — are based on individual performances. A fan can take pride in the success of a Schlierenzauer or a Jacobellis on the World Cup circuit, but it doesn’t mean nearly as much from a patriotic standpoint as success on the Olympic level.
And so it is that we take a look at the final medal count. But this medal count is a bit different. Because, let’s face it, the tears on the face of the U.S. women’s hockey team as they accepted the silver medal after snatching defeat from the jaws of victory are evidence that not all medals are created equal.
So the actual ordering of this list is based on two things:
- The weighted total of each medal. Gold earns three points, silver earns two, and bronze gets a country a point.
- The number of medals won. This is a ranking of efficiency as much as it is of proficiency. Therefore, where ties are to be found in the weighted total, the country which won fewer medals (and thus a higher concentration of gold and silver medals in proportion to bronze) is ranked higher.
That said, let’s take a look at the list:
The Russians dominated on home snow and ice, earning the most gold medals as well as the most medals overall. Canada, meanwhile, followed up on its dominant performance in its host Olympiad four years ago; though they only finished third in gold medals and fourth in total medals, the Canucks finished in the top two more than any other country besides Russia.
The biggest disappointment came for the United States. The Americans would finish second in total medals behind Russia, but over 40 percent of the time those medals were of the bronze variety. The biggest surprise, aside from the Russians themselves, came from the Dutch domination of speed skating. 23 of the 24 medals won by the Netherlands would come in long-track speed skating; the last came when Sjinkie Knegt snatched bronze in the men’s 1000m short-track race. In the process, the Dutch won just one fewer medal than they had in the past three Winter Olympics combined.
But disappointment and unexpected brilliance are both subjective terms, usually beholden to the whims of the person predicting success or failure. And I am certainly as guilty of heightened or depressed expectations as anyone else, as was clearly noted through the comments posted on my medal predictions prior to the start of the Sochi Games.
Based on weighted total, here is how far my predictions deviated from the reality that played out over the recent fortnight in Sochi:
|ACTUAL MEDALS||PREDICTED MEDALS||ACTUAL WEIGHTED TOTAL||PREDICTED WEIGHTED TOTAL||MEDAL VARIANCE||WEIGHTED VARIANCE|
Let’s face it… I rated the United States too highly, and I made a similar gaffe with the South Korean contingent. I underestimated the power of the Russians being in their native land, as well as Dutch speed-skating prowess and Austria’s ability to rebound from a lackluster showing in Vancouver.
Ultimately, though, what matters most is the individuals that comprise each Olympic team. For all the fun that comes from fighting for one’s flag, ultimately the life of an Olympian is more often than not a solitary pursuit away from their compatriots. Rare are the cheers, which make them so much more valuable when the Olympic quadrennial pops up on the calendar.