Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sochi Recap #2: Slovenia 5 - Houston 0

The medal count slowly continues to rise in Sochi. And with the US sticking around the top of the leader board millions of Americans continue to scream "We're Number One!" for doing nothing but drinking beer and cheering from their barstools. And while I take comfort in China being out-medaled by countries like Switzerland, Sweden and Austria, I watch the US and Russia beating on countries one-tenth their size and I feel my nationalistic pride mitigated.

In high school sports (as least as far as I can recall - it's been a few years) teams were put in conferences and, particularly for state championship bragging rights, competed in groups based on size of school.

In college, schools are placed in divisions based on a number of factors including size of school, size of football stadium, scholarships granted and suitcases full of cash handed over in back-campus parking lots.

In the Olympics there are no divisions, no groups. Everyone competes on one big global playing field (figuratively speaking). So to speak of medal count as a measure of a country's success can be misleading. If Russia scores more medals than the Netherlands where's the pride, really? Russia is 8 times the size of the Netherlands in terms of population and, here in Sochi, they know all the best parking lots for handing over suitcases full of cash. So when considering the number of medals a country has won, that country's population (in terms of people and suitcases) should also be taken into account.


Unless the US wins the most medals of course, in which case we will interject our chest-thumping chants of USA! USA! with the oft-repeated factoid that our athletes are 100% non-government funded. (Instead, this being America, we are corporation-funded.)

But really, watching a country like Belarus win 5 golds (so far) begs a few questions, namely: How big is Belarus? and Where's Belarus?

I've been thinking for a while now about researching the relationship between medal count and population but (a) there's no room for my laptop at the bar and (b) the results would likely interfere with my chest-thumping.

Luckily someone else has done it for me - and you.

Looking at medal count through the lenses of population and GDP gives us a very different kind of leader board. What you may also notice is where all the leaders come from: the northern half of Europe, where there is generally no lack of snow and ice (with the exception of the Netherlands who have won 19 of their 20 medals in speed skating, giving eternal inspiration to the Jamaican bobsled team). These are also places where putting things made of wood and metal on your feet to get from Point A to Point B is a practice that dates back quite a bit further than the IOC.

Unfortunately I did not find any links to readily-digestible stats on which countries have won the most Olympic medals overall, both Winter and Summer, according to population. I do see that Slovenia (population 2,000,000 - about the same as Houston, which boasts approximately zero Winter Games medals), has ranked at the top in per capita medal count in both these Sochi games and in the 2012 London Summer Games.

Slovenia, by the way, happens to be one of my favorite countries, and not merely for the fact that I am a representative of Go2Slovenia. Their beer is great, the word 'love' appears in their name, and they have a city called Ptuj, pronounced 'ptooey!' So I can rightfully bask in my own private satisfaction that Slovenia kicks relative ass while I can simultaneously keep screaming "USA! USA" because China is behind us no matter which way you slice it.

And their athletes even get all kinds of government funding I bet.