How to count Olympic medals

by Volker Weber

I was searching Google today with "olympic medal count" and was shown these results:


Then I was wondering whether US media would represent these numbers in a different fashion. So I went to CNN, clicked on Sports and was transferred to Sports Illustrated. Indeed. :-)


And it's not a new development.


hehe, and they complain about Chinese censorship :-)

Tommy Oustad, 2008-08-19

Dabei wäre doch richtig:

1. Germany, Goldmedallien der Herzen: 100, Gold 10, ...

Ts, weder die Amis noch die Chinesen können richtig zählen.

Oswald Prucker, 2008-08-19

A bank here in Australia has an ad campaign based on a tally being adjusted to account for medals/population:

(which often we STILL wouldn't win)

Commonwealth Bank

jason reid, 2008-08-19

I think both systems do not really make sense. Having a gold "equal" to a bronze is plain daft in coming to a total, almost as daft - excluding silver and bronze.

3pts for Gold, 2pts for silver, 1pt for bronze is surely the sensible way. Unless you are from a small Island - then 20pts for gold :)

Steve Castledine, 2008-08-19

@Steve, I was thinking about a weighted score for a medals table, but I think your weighting needs a little tweaking. A Gold's got to be worth more than couple Silvers. How about Gold=10, Silver=4, Bronze=1?

Kerr Rainey, 2008-08-19

yepp, an adjustment factor against a country population would really be fair. Congratz Australia!

Gregory Engels, 2008-08-19

If a decathlete finishes 2nd in all five events and 3rd in five events but never finishes 1st; but no other competitor wins more than one event, and none of these winners places 2nd or 3rd in more than one event, who should win the gold for the Decathlon?

I think the medal counts are bogus no matter how you look at it. Mixing team events and individual events is bogus, no matter how you look at it. Teams with members who live and compete primarily in other countries are bogus. Teams with members who have dual-citizenship by virtue of birth but who have no intention of ever actually living in their team's country are bogus. Teams with members who recently changed citizenship to a new country just in order to be able to compete in the Olympics are bogus.

It's a shame that after many years of not giving any official acknowledgment to medal races, the IOC gave in to pressure from media and national organizing committees and legitimized the idea that the Olympics are competition between countries instead of a competition between athletes.

Richard Schwartz, 2008-08-19

How do we factor the fixed events in the medal counts? Ya know, like gymnastics?

And, if you think CNN is bad, you should see the NBC TV coverage. It is pure drivel!

Tim Lorge, 2008-08-19

Well, if a table is meant to represent the *medal* count, then it should represent the total medal count, not the gold medal count. I'm open to other ways of representing the data, but they should be labeled as such.

Chad Scott, 2008-08-19

I thought the de facto standard was to use the golds only, like the google screenshot, so I'd consider the CNN list bogus and rather pathetic.

Kieren Johnson, 2008-08-19

As Rich pointed out above, it's not a simple question. Counting golds and only golds is ridiculous, because clearly a silver medalist who is a tiny fraction of a second behind Michael Phelps deserves some credit. Counting silvers and bronzes as though they were equal to golds is absurd, because the implication is that a second place finish is just as good as first.

In the linked article, the dispute over how to count medals goes back several decades (and involves many different nations, not just the US, though of course it is always fashionable to mock the US [I do it myself...]). The 1908 London Games medal counting methodology is similar to Steve's and Kerr's suggestions. They assigned 5 points to gold, 3 to silver, and 1 to bronze. Using that approach, China has 276 points while the US has 229, Great Britain has 110, and Russia also has 110, using the numbers above.

Rob McDonagh, 2008-08-19

To use another poster's word, I think its pathetic that anyone cares how the chart is organized enough to make an issue of whether one chart or the other is more fair, accurate, superior or inferior to the other in any way, or somehow indicative of any particular motives.

The two charts show the same data in different sort orders. Big deal!

To the extent that the numbers have any meaning at all, they speak for themselves. But even so, whenever a TV announcer here in the US talks about the results, they invariably talk about both the total and the gold medal counts. It has been been that way during every Olympiad in my memory. I guarantee that at least once tonight during NBC's coverage, I will hear words close to this: "China continues to dominate the gold medals while the US has a slight lead in overall medals". People here are aware of the difference.

Richard Schwartz, 2008-08-19

Here's another way to count.

Rob Koppe, 2008-08-19

That is how marketing defines leadership. :-)

Volker Weber, 2008-08-19

One point which I found interesting is that China manages to produce so many Golds by women.

One (completely plucked out of the air) theory I have is that the Chinese system just pushes everybody to do their best, whereas the Western system seems to push more the men. (Because there is more money/greed involved, and women are less interested than that? I dunno).

My wife suggests that it is because you can dope women better with testosterone.

Any ideas?

Andrew Magerman, 2008-08-19

I like the guy who said table tennis and badmitten don't count because they are not real sports, that is funny. One of my favorites is air pistols, seriously, a bb gun competition at the Olympics.

Americans hate to loose, that is why we succeed. When did it become wrong to be proud of your country and think it is better than other places?

I know the world hates us, flame away!

I miss the cold war when people pretended to like us, but only because they disliked the soviets more. It was ok then to say we were better than others, wasn't it?

Mark Hughes, 2008-08-19

Andrew the west does not remove 3 year olds from their parents and train them to compete in one event their entire lives, i do think there are more distractions in the west for young girls besides sports. And maybe not as much pressure.

Mark Hughes, 2008-08-19

To give NBC some credit, on they very same page where I saw the same odd display, they had a live poll asking which was more important, overall medal count or number of gold medals. The outcome was close, but of course favored the method which showed "Our" teams winning more.

Andrew Pollack, 2008-08-20

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