Monday, 25 August 2008


Not that the Olympics is a celebration of nationalistic chauvinism--after all 'Olympism' teaches us all the higher aspirations of cooperation, sportsmanship, and the joy of competing for its own reward, rather than winning for financial gain or glory, right?--but it is inarguable that the 'medal table' can have a powerful effect: in the case of the British press causing an almost universal case of collective amnesia about the stories they went to Beijing to cover (pollution, Tibet, lack of democratic dissent) in favour of Union Jack waving.

But the medal table has a serious flaw: virtually everyone seems to rank the nations involved by their tally of golds--which seems unfair. I can recall old listings which ranked teams by the total medal tally, with the medals weighted, so I went back and computed the standings using the two methods which used to be standard--the 5-3-1 (gold-silver-bronze) and the 3-2-1 methods.

The results are interesting. China, of course, were the overwhlming winners in gold, but behind the USA in total medals (100-110). Figuring the standings by points reveals they narrowly scrape through as Olympic 'champions', while among the top six nations, only two reverse positions.

Here are the top six countries by golden haul: China (51) USA (36) Russia (23) GB & NI (19) Germany (16) Australia (14). Here's how they stand with the 5-3-1 method: China (346), USA (330) Russia (206) GB (149) Auss (132) Germ (125).

I prefer the 3-2-1 scoreline; the placings remain the same but they are tighter: China 223, USA 220, Russia 139, GB 98, Auss 89, Germ 83.

The bad news for the Brits is that any way you look at it, the Aussies move up to fifth. Even better, if you prorate the points totals by population, Australia becomes the per capita champ of the top six, with 4.3 points per million people, against Britain's 1.5 or China's 0.4.

But the overall per capita champ, at least among countries with at least one gold medal, must be Jamaica with just under 10 points per million (26 points on 6-3-2 medals, and 2.7 million people). Of course that breaks down to 6.75 points for Bolt, and 19.25 points for the rest of the country, but we won't take that any farther. If half a dozen runners can turn Jamaica into the 'real' Olympic champions that's good enough for me.

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