The Winter Olympics begin today, which is a Big Deal in our household. I love the Olympics, but I hate the media’s U.S.-centric coverage. How well does the U.S. really do at the Olympic Games? I have the answer.

First, here are some general Olympics-related links:

We will soon be bombarded with medals charts showing how well the United States is doing. I’ve always believed these medal charts are deceptive. What does it really mean that the United States earned 34 medals at the 2002 Winter Olympics? Is a bronze medal just as good as a gold? Which is more impressive: that the United States won 34 medals or that Estonia won three?

Here is the BBC’s final medal chart from the 2002 Winter Olympics:

This chart is sorted by the number of gold medals earned by each country, but I feel this doesn’t accurately reflect how well each country performed. I want to know how well a country does in relation to its population, or how well it does based on the number of athletes it sends to the Olympic Games.

Four years ago I created a spreadsheet to track exactly this sort of information. What did I find?

Though the U.S. finished second in total medals won, its accomplishments were actually rather mediocre by any other measure. To my mind, the country with the best performance at the 2002 Winter Olympics — and by a huge margin — was Norway. Norway only earned 24 medals to the United States’ 34 (Germany finished first with 35), but Norway is a much smaller country, sent fewer athletes to the competition, and has a smaller Gross Domestic Product. Norway kicked ass.

Here’s how I would sort the medal chart from the 2002 Winter Games:

More detailed information is available from my full spreadsheet.

I intend to keep detailed information regarding each country’s performance again for the 2006 Winter Olympics. When this information is active (which is not the case as of this moment), you’ll be able to find it at the 2006 Olympics medal tracker page. Check back throughout the Olympics for updated standings.

I have vivid recollections of watching the Opening Cermonies in 2002 at Mac and Pam’s house. The two Ice Queens huddled beneath blankets, and the four of us kept a running banter regarding each country’s outfits, etc. We spent the night. The next day MacDaddy and I went for Mexican food at La Costa. While we ate, we watched the luge and cross-country skiing. Good times. Good times.

4 Replies to “Winter Olympics 2006”

  1. lee says:

    Awesome…it’s stuff like this that makes your blog such a joy to read. (In addition to the thoughtful and well written prose.)

    I remember reading that Cuba with the most Olympic medals, when you factor in the country’s population (many more Olympic athletes per capita) as well as percentage of these athletes who win medals. This is for the summer Olympics, obviously.

  2. Lane says:

    How do you account for team sports? Say Germany wins the Bronze medal in hockey (20 gold medals, 1 per player). Do you account for the fact that 20 people from Germany won medals and adjust the medals per Olympic participant accordingly?

  3. J.D. says:

    Maybe I’ll do the Summer Olympics in a couple of years, Lee. (We were on a cruise to Alaska during the last Olymics, so I could not keep my chart.)

    Lane, I’m not counting the number of people who win medals, but the number of medal places earned. In other words, when a hockey team wins a gold medal, I’m counting that as a single gold medal won. That’s the way the official numbers are kept, and it’s the way I keep them. Arbitrary perhaps, but it works for me.

  4. JENEFER says:

    So what did you think of the outfits this year? Did you like the USA berets? Ugh. What did you think of the dresses made to look like the Alps? Now that was interesting.

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