Sunday, August 5, 2012

I Am Overthinking the Olympics (Day 9)

Here's the problem:

This is not an Olympics problem; it's a reporting-on-the-Olympics problem.

Everybody dutifully reports the medals table, and I'm glad that they at least do that because I think it's a lot of fun to keep up with. But to present aggregate Olympics success based on the medals table alone, when the closing medals table will reflect five times more medals for badminton than it does for basketball, is lazy. divides the games into 24 sports.

Now, I have issue with this cutup of the data, too, because of the cycling and gymnastics granularity. But the breakout is a credible starting point for the conversation.

What I propose is assigning 100 points per sport, with points per medal based on a formula that favors gold medals over silver and silver over bronze. And I would calibrate it so that the favoring is very heavy, perhaps ... 


So then each sport awards however many medals it wants within its discipline, and then we medals-table people feed those numbers into the formula; solve for G, S and B, and then add up points per national team.

Anticipating a couple of criticisms ...

First, this is not (only) a complicated scheme to mitigate China's trampoline success. I'm uncertain that it would actually favor the United States, for example.

Second, I'm not saying that it should replace medals count, Olympic Efficiency Score (OES), Extended Olympic Efficiency Score (EOES) or any of the other metrics that have undergirded Olympics reporting for years. And, as to the raw medals table specifically, I do want to say that I think it's a meaningful indicator of how many different times a nation got to cheer and cry because one of fellow citizens earned an Olympic medal, which is a huge, huge accomplishment--gold, silver or bronze.

But for those of us who want to use the Olympics to gauge which country is best at sports--which is not the point of the Olympics (and that's why this is not an Olympics problem) but which many people, oftentimes including myself, try to do (and that's why this is a reporting-on-the-Olympics problem)--we have to go a little further than the medals table. "Event-Balanced Olympic Points" ("E-BOP") would be another way to peek into that question.

Previous reports:


  1. The medals-table race is fantastic ...

    1. United States 27 gold, 13 silver, 15 bronze
    2. China 25, 16, 14
    3. Great Britain 14, 8, 8
    4. South Korea 10, 4, 6
    5. France 8, 6, 8
    6. Germany 5, 10, 6
    7. Italy 5, 5, 3
    8. Kazakhstan 5, 0, 0
    9. North Korea 4, 0, 1
    10. Russia 3, 15, 11
    11. Netherlands 3, 1, 4
    12. South Africa 3, 1, 0
    13. New Zealand 3, 0, 4
    14. Japan 2, 10, 12
    15. Cuba 2, 2, 1
    16. Hungary 2, 1, 2
    17. Poland 2, 1, 1
    18. Ukraine 2, 0, 4
    19. Ethiopia 2, 0, 1
    20. Australia 1, 12, 7
    21. Romania 1, 4, 2
    22. Canada 1, 3, 6
    23. Czech Republic 1, 3, 1
    24. Sweden 1, 3, 0
    25. Belarus 1, 2, 3
    26. Denmark 1, 2, 2
    27. Brazil 1, 1, 5
    28. Croatia 1, 1, 0
    29. Slovenia 1, 0, 2
    30. Jamaica 1, 0, 1
    31. Switzerland 1, 0, 0
    31. Venezuela 1, 0, 0
    31. Lithuania 1, 0, 0
    31. Georgia 1, 0, 0
    35. Mexico 0, 3, 1
    36. Colombia 0, 2, 1
    36. Kenya 0, 2, 1
    36. Spain 0, 2, 1
    39. Slovakia 0, 1, 3
    40. India 0, 1, 2
    41. Indonesia 0, 1, 1
    41. Belgium 0, 1, 1
    41. Serbia 0, 1, 1
    41. Mongolia 0, 1, 1
    41. Norway 0, 1, 1
    46. Thailand 0, 1, 0
    46. Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) 0, 1, 0
    46. Egypt 0, 1, 0
    46. Guatemala 0, 1, 0
    50. Greece 0, 0, 2
    50. Moldova 0, 0, 2
    52. Qatar 0, 0, 1
    52. Uzbekistan 0, 0, 1
    52. Tunisia 0, 0, 1
    52. Singapore 0, 0, 1
    52. Hong Kong 0, 0, 1
    52. Islamic Republic of Iran 0, 0, 1
    52. Azerbaijan 0, 0, 1

  2. Serena and Venus Williams continued their awesomeness, but I think this has turned out to be a pretty desolate day on the ol' medal stand for Team USA.

    1. So the tennis tournament wound up at Wimbledon, and Williamses of Lynwood, Calif., won the women's doubles gold, 6-4 and 6-4, over a Czech Republic pair. The Williams sisters are simply amazing, and, if tennis had been as big in the United States during their careers as it was in the 1970s, I think they'd be among the most visible dozen people in the country. Russia took bronze, rallying from a set down to beat Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond of the United States.

      The day got happier for Raymond of Norristown, Pa., as she paired with Mike Bryan of Camarillo, Calif., to win bronze in mixed doubles. The gold went to Belarus; the silver, to Great Britain.

      Andy Murray was part of the losing Team GB pair in that gold-medal match, but it had already been a huge day for him. Murray roasted Switzerland's Roger Federer in straight sets (2, 1 and 4) for the men's singles gold. The bronze went to Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, for that country's first medal of the games. I had literally never heard of del Potro before this tournament, and it turns out he's the ninth-rated player in the world and the 2009 winner of the U.S. Open. So, you see what I'm saying about tennis's popularity in the United States.

    2. In 10 years, someone should do one of those 30 for 30-type documentaries on the Williams sisters.

    3. Note that we won the women's doubles with a pair of sisters, and the men's doubles with a pair of brothers. That's like something out of a movie.

    4. Onion Sports Network ‏@OnionSports
      Gold Medal Keeps Smacking Andy Murray In Face During U.S. Open Match | For More Sports News:
      5:25 PM - 5 Sep 12

  3. The Jamaican track team just kills the U.S. medal count. They did it in 2008, and they're doing it again this time.

  4. I've started plugging away at your medal scoring method and will hopefully have the numbers before the Olympics are over.

  5. I'll be interested in seeing what Eric's alternative numbers show. I will say that I've looked at a bunch of different alternatives, and the United States ranks very poorly under all of them.

    I think the only way you could cut the data such that the United States does pretty well would be to assume that the Olympics consists entirely of swimming, tennis, track and field, basketball, and women's gymnastics.

    1. When the Williamses tire of tennis, they should take up fencing.

    2. What am I thinking? Badminton, of course. OF COURSE!

  6. China ended up completing the badminton sweep. In today's final finals, China won gold and bronze in men's singles (Malaysia--first medal--took silver) and gold in men's doubles (Denmark silver, South Korea bronze).

  7. In women's beach volleyball, China and the United States won early quarterfinals, and those two pairs will play a semifinal Tuesday. A second U.S. duo, , rallied from behind late in the first set against the Czech Republic and now leads the second, 13-6 (21 by two wins a set). The winner of this quarter plays either Brazil or Germany in the first semi Tuesday.

    1. The second U.S. duo, Californians Jen Kessy and April Ross, have withstood the Czech Republic and advanced to the semis.

    2. There was a lot of talk in that second U.S. quarter about how cold the Americans' feet are getting in the chilly British sand. The U.S. women in that quarter wore long-sleeved tops and bikini bottoms. The Czech Republic women wore full-body suits.

      In today's final quarter, the German women are wearing long pants and bikini tops. Brazil (the No. 1 team in the world and winner of Set 1 here) is wearing full-body suits with bikini tops.

    3. Brazil survives a German comeback bid, and so Tuesday's semis will pit the United States and Germany and then the United States and China.

  8. In the women's basketball tournament, the undefeated U.S. women beat the second-place team in Group A, China, by 48. The United States has not lost a preliminary-round Olympic game since Montreal (1976 was the first Olympics with women's basketball).

    France and Australia seem to have separated themselves from the rest of Group B with wins over Russia and Canada, respectively. But, in fact, four teams from each group advance to the knockout tournament, and none of the Group B teams has clinched.

  9. Men's omnium cycling medals: Denmark gold, France silver, Great Britain bronze.

  10. Men's team foil fencing: Italy gold, Japan silver, Germany bronze. The United States finished fourth.

    1. We must be way ahead of the rest of the world in fourth-place finishes.

  11. Men's 50mm pistol: South Korea gold, South Korea silver, China bronze.

  12. In duet synchronized swimming, a U.S. duo finished 10 of 24 entrants in the technical routine. There's a free routine tomorrow, and a free-routine final Tuesday.

  13. Men's star sailing: Sweden gold, New Zealand silver, Germany bronze. The United States finished sixth.

    Men's finn sailing: France gold, New Zealand silver, Spain bronze.

  14. In women's indoor volleyball, the United States reinforced its dominance of Group B, with a 3-0 victory over Turkey in the close of the preliminary round. Quarterfinals begin Tuesday. Team USA has never won an Olympic medal in women's indoor volleyball, but it's the world's top-rated team.

  15. In women's water polo, the United States beat Italy, 9-6, in one quarterfinal. Team USA won silver in 2000, bronze in 2004 and silver in 2008.

    Reports Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA): "A tantalizing semi-final with Australia has been booked for Tuesday in what is seen as a battle between the best two teams in the world."

    Hungary plays Spain in the other semi.

  16. Women's 165-pound-plus weightlifting: China gold, Russia silver, Armenia bronze.

    Lulu Zhou, a 24-year-old from Shandong and "a big girl with a big heart," broke her own world record with two lifts totaling 333kg. More from the Xinhua story ...

    "Fang Song!" Zhou shouted to herself every time before she grabbed the bar. It was "relax" which she meant, and she managed to put down the pressure and pick up the weight.

  17. So, as you can see, it does not appear to have been a Super Sunday of medals for the ol' U.S. of A. today. However, I have not yet checked the results of 10 diving, gymnastics and track-and-field medals awarded today, in hopes of another happy episode of The Bob Costas Show. So we'll see. Go, tape-delay Team USA!

  18. OK, here we go ... women's 3m springboard diving ... through three of five dives, China's got first and second; the United States, third ...

    1. Through four ... U.S. woman slips to fourth, behind a woman from Mexico (and, of course, the two Chinese women).

  19. I don't really understand this Sears commercial where the guy runs into the refrigerator on the beach, but it has made me at least chuckle every time I've seen it. As soon as Sears brings back its candy shop, I'm ready to come back.

  20. Replies
    1. A Bulgarian woman tripped over the first hurdle in her 440m hurdles heat. Bulgaria is still looking for its first medal of these games. We're a long way from Bulgaria Month.

    2. This reminded me that I hadn't posted on Bulgaria's latest efforts to reach the group stages of the UEFA Champions' League in soccer. That mistake has now been rectified.

  21. The New Orleans Saints have jumped out to a 7-0 lead over the Arizona Cardinals in the first quarter of the NFL's Hall of Fame game. I still think that game should be on Saturday Afternoon, and it should be part of ABC's Wide World of Sports.

    1. With 12:16 left in the third quarter, New Orleans leads the football Cardinals 17-7.

    2. Football Cardinals trail the Saints 17-10 with 6:28 left in the 4th quarter.

  22. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Baseball Cardinals lead the Milwaukee Brewers 1-0 after two innings.

    1. The Cardinals still lead 1-0 in the top of the 4th. I should point out that to honor the 1982 World Champions, the Cardinals are wearing the old powder blue road uniforms that I remember from the 1980's. They look great, but it's very confusing to see them wearing those uniforms at home.

    2. By the way, here's how much I still live in the 1980's. When I saw the Cardinals, it never even occurred to me that they were wearing throw-back uniforms. My only question was why were they wearing their road uniforms at home.

    3. Baseball Cardinals win 3-0. It occurs to me that they should always wear the 1982 uniforms when they play Milwaukee.