Going it Alone in Pyeongchang

Once again, it’s time for people in the United States to give cursory attention to winter sports. In about a week, the 2018 Winter Olympics being in Pyeongchang, South Korea. As always, the hubbub over scandals and costs swamps the news in the run up to the Games, knocking the actual athletes off even the back pages of the sports sections.

Even with normal coverage, it’s easy for an individual athlete to get overlooked. Over a thousand athletes in attendance, the big powerhouses of winter sports getting all the glory…. How must it feel to be your country’s only representative?

Here they are (asterisks indicate a country’s first appearance in the Winter Games):

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You’ve Forgotten Them Already, Haven’t You

Assuming you knew about them in the first place….

One top medalist from every country that won a medal at the Rio Olympics.

If you won your country’s only medal, you’re in.

If you won your country’s highest medal (gold > silver > bronze), you’re in.

After that, it’s pretty much personal preference. I did try to choose a good variety of sports, and those athletes who won multiple medals.

I tried to be consistent with the captions. It’s not really easy when you’re trying to put this together as quickly as possible so it doesn’t get dated. I hope I at least got everyone’s names right.

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First Time Gold

In a lot of ways, the Olympics is about Firsts. First to cross the finish line, coming in first place in a tournament…. There are also the first times a sport has been played at the Olympics.

Some of the best “firsts” happen in the medal ceremonies, when a nation’s anthem gets played for the first time to mark that nation’s first gold medal. In Rio, this happened nine times. Ten, if you count the “Independent Olympic Athlete” team.
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So, Who Won the Olympics?

So, Who Won the Olympics?

This question pops up every two years at the conclusion of the Games (either Winter or Summer). The simple answer is whichever nation got the most medals. Usually, as was the case this time, it’s the United States. This achievement is crowed by people who seem to believe that success in an international sporting competition somehow validates a nation’s greatness. Or that individual athletic achievement only matters when your name is Michael Phelps or Simone Biles.

Let’s be fair. The United States is one of the most populous nations in the world. We have a truly vast pool of talent to draw on. And our large, vibrant, and robust economy means that when talent does appear, we can offer the best in training, technology, and equipment to help those aspiring athletes reach greatness. Well, at least in the sports we care about….

Gee, if only there were some way to take population size and economic factors into account. I wonder what the Medals Table would look like then… Continue reading

The Other Problem With the Olympics

It happens every two years. People gripe about the Olympics. Corruption in the International Olympic Committee, doping scandals, and the like. They swear they aren’t going to follow them, and yet they keep an eye on the medal tables and whatever else the media tells them to pay attention to.

In and among their litany of complaints, they might mention how the Games have gotten too expensive for a city to host. The displacement of people, the disruption of everyday life for the residents, the oppressive security measures, the wasteful expenditures on facilities that will never turn a profit (as if making money was the only reason to host the Games).

They have a point. The Games have gotten rather expensive. But it’s not just inflation, or hosts trying to “one up” the previous games.

It’s that the Olympics have gotten too big.
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The Olympic Team to Root For

One of the more notable athletes competing in the 2012 Olympics in London was Guor Marial, a marathoner from South Sudan. A refugee from Sudan’s civil war, he managed to make his way to the US. In high school he started competing in track, and made All-American in college. Noting that his time in the marathon was good enough to qualify for the Olympics, friends and coaches encouraged him to apply.

There was a problem, though. He wasn’t a US citizen and couldn’t be on the US team. He wanted to represent the new country of South Sudan (where he was born), but that country hadn’t yet met the International Olympic Committee’s requirements to field a team. The IOC suggested that he run for Sudan. Marial’s response was pretty much along the lines of “The Sudanese Army killed almost all of my family and forced me to flee the country. Do you honestly think I’m going to compete under the same flag?”

The IOC found a loophole. They allow for “stateless” athletes to compete under the Olympic flag. Wearing a generic black and gray track suit, and being given the three-letter country code of “IOA” (Independent Olympic Athlete), he ran in the marathon, finishing with a respectable middle-of-the-pack time of 2:19:32.

Since then, the refugee situation has gotten worse. Millions of people are being displaced by civil wars and strife all across the globe. Mindful of this, the IOC wondered if any potential athletes were sheltering in refugee camps or otherwise counted as “displaced” people.

They found quite a few….
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So, How Did They Do?

Earlier I had listed those Olympic athletes who were the sole representatives of their countries in Sochi. Given that the 2014 Winter Olympics are over, I thought it would be interesting to see how they did.

Note that when I give a result of, for example, 52nd of 60, that 60 refers to the number of athletes who crossed the finish line. It does not include all the DNSs, DNFs, and DSQs.

DNS; Did Not Start – For whatever reason, the athlete declined to compete. I’m going to assume it was due to illness and not something like equipment failure or not being there at the start when the race / their run was scheduled to begin. Olympic athletes have been known to share equipment when someone forgets to bring spares. And missing your start time is something too embarrassing to contemplate.

DNF: Did Not Finish – The athlete started, but did not cross the finish line. Perhaps they got hurt along the way, or were so far behind that they decided to save their strength for another competition.

DSQ: Disqualified – For whatever reason, they were either not allowed to compete or their results were wiped. Perhaps they ran afoul of one of the many obscure rules governing the Olympic version of their sport. Happily, there are very, very few of these. And none from our “soloists”

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Fixing the Olympics

So there’s a bit of a to-do today about apparent home-team favoritism in one of the many figure skating competitions in Sochi. The Grand High Masters of World Figure Skating may have made slight adjustments in their Super Double Secret Rules of Scoring to grant a victory to a Russian skater, instead of the perceived audience favorite.

Fans of the sport are all up in arms over this, demanding that Something! Be! Done!

Certainly, there are things that should be done. But nothing that requires the rolling of heads.

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Going it Alone in Sochi

At the Opening Ceremonies earlier today, viewers saw athletes from all over the world. The United States has 230 athletes participating (I believe that is the maximum number allowed by the IOC and general fairness); Russia has 226, and Canada 220. Nine other countries are sending over 100 athletes as well. No doubt these countries will be dominating the “Medal Count” tables – as if collecting the most medals means your country “wins” the Olympics.

The Olympics are not about which country gets the most “bling”. They are about athletes from all over the world getting together every four years to compete against each other. Sure, it takes a lot of time, money, and effort to get there. And there are minimum qualifications to be able to participate – they aren’t going to let just anyone come and play.

With extremely rare exceptions, you need the backing of a government to make it to the Olympics. Which is why they are dominated by the large and wealthy nations. But there are still small countries that manage to send athletes, and they are just as proud of them and cheer just as hard as any other country.

Here are the athletes who are the sole representatives of their countries:
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