A Bad Place Full Of Bad Jerks
A Bad Place Full Of Bad Jerks
Illustration for article titled What If The Olympic Medal Count Included Medals for Every Member of a Team Event?

The Olympic medal count is a stupid measurement tool that is supposed to tell us how successful a particular country was during the entire span of an Olympiad. Some have suggested that we could refine this blunt instrument by weighing gold, silver, and bronze finishes in a sort of NASCAR or F1 fashion. It is still imperfect. In the same way weighing AP Calculus equally with Advanced Athletic Conditioning is probably suspect, weighing medals still rates the solo niche events as heavily as the team sports that require multiple athletes to perform at an elite level, simultaneously. Likewise, many of the team events are also much more popular than the lesser-known solo events and thus play a larger part in the broader sports consciousness. A gold in solo Nordic Combined gets the same treatment as a Hockey gold in the medal count. That's silly.


While it has plenty of flaws, there are a few merits of the gross medal count as an assessment. I often like the fact that the gross medal count lumps gold, silver and bronze together in such a way that ignores the capricious luck that often determines the difference between a first and second place finish. It awards equal meritorious achievement for simply being on the podium at the most pressure-filled, climactic event of the sporting universe.

Illustration for article titled What If The Olympic Medal Count Included Medals for Every Member of a Team Event?

However, the medal count, weighted or otherwise, neglects to properly reflect a country's ability to put together good teams. Team competitions may not highlight the individual athlete in the way solo swimming events show off Michael Phelps and his unparalleled ability, or the way Usain Bolt can dominate the other greatest sprinters in the world. However, they can tell us whether a country has a sports infrastructure for a particular event that can foster excellence in a wide swath of participants, rather than just creating one piercing individual performer.

Again, writers and analysts have attempted to fix this by presenting the number of weighted medals per 100 members of the delegation. A sort of group Olympics GPA, but small delegations who win medals make even stronger cases for Olympic success. For example, in 2010 Australia had 40 athletes, 2 gold, 1 silver (6.3 weighted medals/100 athletes). However, this statistic would be detrimental to a delegation who win two bronzes in Olympic Curling with 10 members when compared to another country who only sent two competitors, but one of them won silver in Downhill Ski Cross.


A list of events that have multiple participants is longer than one might think. To count the number of multiple participants in an event that would be awarded a medal, I used the number of participants in the medal round. In hockey, the maximum number of players allowed on a roster were awarded a medal, and in the case of team figure skating where each team that medaled had a different number of participants, I awarded medals to the mean number of participants, nine.

Below is table indicating the net change in medals for each country in each event with multiple participants. Each type of medal has been left discrete.

Multiple Participant EventsGoldSilverBronze
Men'sCanada +24Sweden +24Finland +24
Women's Canada +20USA +20Switzerland +20
Men'sCanada +4GBR +4Sweden +4
Women's Canada +4Sweden +4GBR +4
2men'sRussia +1Switzerland +1USA +1
2Women'sCanada +1USA +1USA +1
4Men'sRussia +3Latvia +3USA +3
Doubles LugeGermany +1Austria +1Latvia +1
Team RelayGermany +3Russia +3Latvia +3
Figure Skating -
Pair SkatingRussia +1Russia +1Germany +1
Ice DancingUSA +1Canada +1Russia +1
TeamRussia +9Canada +9USA +9
Biathlon - Relay
Men'sRussia +3Germany +3Austria +3
Women's Ukraine +3Russia +3Norway +3
MixedNorway +3Czech Republic +3Italy +3
Cross Country Skiing -
4 x 10k Men'sSweden +3Russia +3France +3
Team Sprint Men'sFinland +1Russia +1Sweden +1
4 x 5k Women'sSweden +3Finland +3Germany +3
Team Sprint Women'sNorway +1Finland +1Sweden +1
Nordic Combined
Team Large HillNorway +3Germany +3Austria +3
Short Track SS
Men's 5000M relayRussia +3USA +3China +3
Women's 3000m RelaySouth Korea +3Canada +3Italy +3
Ski Jumping
Men's Team Large HillGermany +3Austria +3Japan +3
Speed Skating
Women's Team PursuitNetherlands +2Poland +2Russia +2
Men's Team PusuitNetherlands +2South Korea +2Poland +2

Canada, Finland, and Sweden are all examples of nations who excelled in team events. If the medal count reflected a medal for every athlete who was on the roster during the medal round or final heat of the event, each of those countries standings in the final medal count would have changed dramatically.

Illustration for article titled What If The Olympic Medal Count Included Medals for Every Member of a Team Event?

Teams that earned a medal in Hockey were the most obvious beneficiaries of this type of adjustment in the medal counting statistics. The roster sizes were 25 and 21 for men and women, respectively. One could certainly argue for an adjustment in the number of medals awarded to a hockey team. The most simple change would be to award medals only for the number of players participating in the event at a given time. In the case of Men's and Women's Hockey, each team would receive 6 medals instead, resulting in a net +5 for each hockey medalist.


Curling teams might be a little more difficult to quantify since, on a given throw, not all five rostered players are participating. But since the differential would be less dramatic than in hockey, I'm willing to concede that all members of the curling squads could medal. Or we could just not count curling at all.

Regardless, the bump that countries receive when we award medals to all the members of a team gives us new picture of the medal count. Nations that excel at team sports are not punished for lacking a strong performer in a marginal event. While medal count is still relatively dumb, the sporting equivalent of wiener measuring, having some variety in the way we count the medals is far more desirable than our current boneheaded methodology.

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