Sunday, August 12, 2012

Day 16 Standings -- with OES

In the end, the United States finished with the most medals at the Summer Olympics for the fifth time in a row. They also finished with the most gold medals for the fourth time in the last five Olympics. So we topped the medal tables all over the world.

On the other hand, the U.S. Olympic Efficiency Score ("OES") remained very low. In 2007, the United States had 26.83 percent of world GDP. If we had won that same percentage of medals, we would have captured 257 medals at the 2008 Olympics. Instead, we won 110 -- giving us an OES of 110/257 = 0.428. In 2011, we had 25.48 percent of world GDP -- that decline of 1.35 percent explains a lot about the anger roiling the American electorate -- which should have translated into 245.1 medals. We actually won 104, for an OES of 0.424 -- almost exactly where we were four years ago.

The picture is brighter if you look only at gold medals. Based on its percentage of world GDP, the United States should have won 76.9 gold medals. We actually won 46, for a gold-medal OES of 0.598 -- our highest OES in that category since 1996.

I continue to believe that these facts are very useful in analyzing the performance of our U.S. Olympic Committee compared to its counterparts in other nations. However, it is fair to emphasize that if you look only at those sports that have traditionally been important in the United States, the picture looks brighter. Historically, the United States has seen the Olympics as a swimming meet, a track meet, a women's gymnastics competition, and two basketball tournaments. This year, 245 medals were awarded in swimming and track and field. Based on our percentage of GDP, we should have won 62.4 of them -- we actually won 60, for an OES of 0.961. We also took gold in the two basketball tournaments, had the best women's gymnastics team and the best overall women's gymnast. In other words, we did very well in the sports we care about the most.

We should also give enormous credit to our women athletes. American women were the best swimmers, the best track and field athletes, the best gymnasts. They had the best basketball team, the best soccer team, the best water polo team, and the two best beach volleyball teams. That is a great performance by any measure.

Still, I would like to see us raise our ambitions for 2016, when the Olympics will return to the Western Hemisphere for the first time in 20 years. Given the size of our economy, goals of 50 gold medals and 120 total medals are both realistic -- and, in my opinion, appropriate. In too many sports, our athletes are having to take on the world with very little help from their home country. They deserve better.

One final thought. China made a huge effort to finish at the top of the medal table in this Olympics. They didn't make it. The United States -- which made very, very little effort by comparison to China -- beat them by 17 medals. I'm sure that most of the Chinese leaders who are my age believe -- as do many 40-somethings here -- that the United States is a basket case that has no chance against a rising China. But they would be wise to reflect on the fact that the United States has been under-estimated many, many times since 1776, and our fractious and inefficient system almost always generates better results than our competitors expect.

1. United States: 104 total medals (46G/29S/29B) -- OES of 0.424
2. China: 87 (38/27/22) -- OES of 1.128
3. Russia: 82 (24/25/33) -- OES of 4.736
4. Great Britain: 65 (29/17/19) -- OES of 1.505
5. Germany: 44 (11/19/14) -- OES of 0.791
6. Japan: 38 (7/14/17) -- OES of 0.448
7. Australia: 35 (7/16/12) -- OES of 2.115
8. France: 34 (11/11/12) -- OES of 0.822
9. S. Korea: 28 (13/8/7) -- OES of 1.441
10. Italy: 28 (8/9/11) -- OES of 0.861

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