Friday, August 22, 2008

Breaking Down the Beijing Olympic Medal Count

The 2008 Summer Olympics are coming to a close, and there's a little controversy over who is winning the medal count. The US holds a 13 medal lead over China (102-89), but the Chinese have 47 gold medals, 16 more than the Americans. The question is, who wins the medal tally, and how exactly do we measure medals?

There is no official "winner" of the games, but to pretend that some in the world would use the dominance in the Olympics to signify political power is a little ignorant. China wants to win the medal count, badly. Not even the former Soviet Union implemented the kind of athlete farming China is pulling now. They're leading in the number of golds, but are behind in the total medals, which begs the question of who is actually "winning" the games.

It's a little silly to simply say the highest total medals is the best, because by that logic 10 bronze medals beats 9 gold medals, which just doesn't feel right.

For the sake of argument, let's assign a gold medal 3 points, a silver medal 2 points, and a bronze medal 1 point, and see how the totals shake out, unofficially, with around 40 medals still to be awarded.

Gold: 31 x 3 = 93 points
Silver: 36 x 2 = 72 points
Bronze: 35 x 1= 35 points

TOTAL: 200 points

Gold: 47 x 3 = 141 points
Silver: 17 x 2 = 34 points
Bronze: 25 x 1= 25 points

TOTAL: 200 points

So, if you break it down that way, the US and China are currently tied at the top, but what about those 40 remaining medals?
Well, the US is guaranteed at least 5 more silvers (or potentially golds) by reaching the finals in men's and women's volleyball, men's and women's basketball, and men's water polo, and the potential for a bronze medal in baseball. The bulk of the medals to be given out are in boxing and track, but most likely the US will end up winning the "total medals" race, but in this fake analysis the US would have to win gold in a majority of those 5 finals to be the "winner" of the games.

It still doesn't officially mean anything, and it's not as though they're going to give a trophy out to the country with the most medals or with the most weighted points, that's not the "spirit of the games." But if the US does end up on top, it means China didn't come through on its goal completely, and I was completely wrong in thinking that Plan 119, hosting the games in Beijing, and using less experienced athletes in Athens in 2004 would give the Chinese a definitive advantage in winning the medal count.

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