Olympic Reflections

I am a sucker for the Olympics.  I just love watching world class folks doing their best.  Could be athletes, bakers, chefs, or carpenters.  I just adore watching the best at their craft.  Now, this Olympiad is over and behind us.  Time for some reflections.

What I can always do without is the criticism the athletes and teams get from those either out of the game, or who have never even been a player.  The Fox News imbecile who called Simone Biles a quitter. Or the ex-President who blamed kneeling before the national anthem for the USWNT loss in soccer (btw, no anthem of any kind is played prior to an Olympic match, but when did facts matter to that asshat?) 

I pulled for Vashti Cunningham in the women’s long jump, and for Allyson Felix in every event she entered.  I wanted the USMBT to be triumphant, and they were. Thank you, Kevin Durant. An American woman, Molly Seidel, running in only her third marathon race, won a bronze medal in the marathon. Ms. Seidel is now only one of three American women to have medalled in this Olympic event.  I loved watching the men’s 4×400 meter relay team decimate the competition and felt a bit ill watching the men’s 4×100 meter relay team fumble, tumble, and trip their way out of the medal stand.  My high school best friend was a shot putter and watching Ryan Crouser break the world record three times – the final time over 76 feet – was a thrill*.  Simone Biles withdraws, suffering from a bad case of the “twisties” (a real mental health issue) and Sunisa Lee steps in to win the all-around gold medal in Women’s gymnastics and a bronze medal in the uneven bars. That is exciting stuff.

The phenomenal feats of sportsmanship were riveting.  The one demonstration of selfishness, if proved intentional, was revolting.  But many commentators, citing the sheer exhaustion of the Marathon runners in the heat of summer Sapporo (86 degrees and humid), decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.  That’s sportsmanship as well. [Subsequent testimony seemed to indicate that the actions were unintentional]

New world records from unexpected sources.  Terrific personal efforts.  Teamwork.  Supporting and encouraging even your competitors.  Yeah, even given COVID, these athletes deserved their chance to compete.

Perhaps on of the more silly debates was around who “won” the Olympics….China or the United States.  Before the last day, China led in Gold Medals by 2 and the US led the total medal count by a bunch.  Debate raged.

Now I know the quadrennial Olympics are not a test of math skills, but if silver and bronze medals do not somehow “count”, then what is the point of awarding them?  Now, we all know its better to win Gold than Silver, and better to win Silver than Bronze.  So, let’s look at what happens when we use weighted results:  Give 3 points for Gold, 2 points for Silver, and 1 point for Bronze.

The USA managed 3 gold medals on the last day of competition, topping China in Gold Medals by 1 (2.5%).  In total medals the US topped China by 25 medals (22%). And if we weight the medal count as above, the US comes out on top – ahead by 18%.  Numbers below. 

Medal CountGoldSilverBronzeTotalRank by GoldRank by Total
USA39413311311
China3832188822
Japan2714175835
Great Britain2221226544
ROC2028237153
Australia177224666
Netherlands1012143679
France10121133710
Germany1011163778
Italy1010204077
Weighted PointsGoldSilverBronzeTotalRank by Weighted% Ahead
USA1178233232118%
China1146418196229%
ROC60562313936%
Great Britain66422213043%
Japan812817126531%
Australia51142287620%
Italy3020207073%
Netherlands3024146880%
Germany3022166884%
France302411659

Winning an Olympic medal is influenced by culture, wealth, availability of healthcare, adherence (or not) to the prohibition on performance enhancing drugs, amount of support, the blessings of good genes, and a whole host of other things.  For the US and a few other countries, their diversity is clearly an advantage (think about the top 10 country winners above without their racial and ethnic diversity and without immigrants).  Thus, the ethical, moral, and social answer is that everyone won.  We get better when pushed by competition, we tend to want to do our best for ourselves, and our team. Truth be told, we came from tribal societies, and it is hard to throw off rooting for the home team.

Congratulations Team USA, you make all of us proud.

* Speaking of thrills, I have a AAU 3rd place ribbon for the shot put – this is what happens when you show up with your buddy and find out that only 2 competitors signed up prior to the meet.  I signed up at the meet and got my ribbon for attending.

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