Canada’s Accomplishments At the Olympics: Even Greater Than the Numbers Would Suggest at First Glance

28 02 2010

Canada’s Accomplishments At the Olympics Are Even Greater Than the Numbers Would Suggest at First Glance

Earlier this week, there was a lot of hand-wringing in the media about Canada’s alleged underperformance in the Olympics. I would imagine that the two gold medals in hockey will have dissipated this negativity, so perhaps posting these stats is now a moot point. However, one thing that bugged me about the complaints that Canada was third or fourth in the medal rankings is that so many of the complainers have overlooked an incredibly obvious fact, namely, that Canada’s population is rather small. In terms of medals per capita, Canada’s performance has been quite respectable. I was left wondering whether the give gold medals out to countries for having statistically illiterate populations.

Here are the medal ranking at 18:00 ET Sunday, 28 February.

Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
United States 9 15 13 37
Germany 10 13 7 30
Canada 14 7 5 26
Norway 9 8 6 23
Austria 4 6 6 16
Russia 3 5 7 15
South Korea 6 6 2 14
China 5 2 4 11
France 5 2 4 11

Here are the populations of these countries, courtesy of the CIA Factbook.

Country Population
United States 308,772,000
Germany 81,757,600
Canada 34,017,000
Norway 4,860,500
Austria 8,372,930
Russia 141,927,297
South Korea 49,773,145
China 1,336,090,000
France 65,447,374

It seems to me that the following are the stats we should really be paying attention to:

Country Medals Per Million Inhabitants
Norway 4.732023454
Austria 1.910920072
Canada 0.76432372
Germany 0.366938364
South Korea 0.281276178
France 0.16807397
United States 0.119829518
Russia 0.105687914
China 0.008232978

Or, if you prefer to focus on gold medals

Country Gold Medals Per Million Inhabitants
Norway 1.851661352
Austria 0.477730018
Canada 0.411558926
Germany 0.122312788
South Korea 0.120546933
France 0.076397259
United States 0.029147721
Russia 0.021137583
China 0.003742263

What does doing well in the Winter Olympics say about a country aside from suggesting that it has lots of snow? Canadians now need to have a debate about how what the most successful Winter Olympic countries have in common and what Canadians can do better in the future. My concern is that the excellent performance of a few dozen Canadian athletes at the Olympics will cause Canada to rest on its laurels. We really need to address the problem of our sedentary population.In 1973, Canadian TV stations carried a very controversial ad showing that the average 30-year old Canadian was about as fit as the average 60-year old Swede. The ad was soon pulled because it was deemed to be offensive to Canada. Since 1973, the problem of couch potatoism in Canada has only become worse. So what are the Norwegians doing right? What are the Americans, who have 300 million people, doing so wrong?

Current Medal Count, Vancouver Olympics

20 02 2010

This is from the Vancouver Olympics official website. The numbers should update automatically. The figures are for gold, silver, bronze total. My only criticism of the site is that it doesn’t break down the national medal totals in per capita terms. The United States has twice as many medals as Norway, but its population is vastly larger.

USA 6 6 8 20
Norge 5 3 2 10
Tyskland 4 5 4 13
Kanada 4 3 1 8
Korea 3 2 0 5
Schweiz 3 0 1 4
Guld Silver Brons Totalt

The Atlantic on Winter Olympic Medal Counts

17 02 2010

As long time readers of this blog will know, I am a strong believer in prediction markets. I think that we should use them to set everything from drug laws to foreign policy. Prediction markets also have a pretty good track record for Olympic medal counts.

“Betfair, a British prediction market, has Germany as the 5/4 favorite for the most medals, Canada second at 12/5, and the US is third, with odds of 9/2.” Read more here.

P.S. The Atlantic article cites one economist’s calculation that the home-field advantage at the Olympics in just 1.8%. Canadians take note.

Betfair’s Vancouver Olympics Ice Hockey page is here.

An Irish Perspective on the Vancouver Olympics Opening Ceremony

14 02 2010

From the Irish Independent: “Vancouver, apparently, has been consistently rated “the world’s most liveable city”, an experiment in multiculturalism that has achieved improbable levels of harmony despite the fact that for 52 per cent of the population, English is not their first language. And Canada itself is currently in vogue as a cool, progressive country where they’re not big on nationalism or patriotic fervour. “We may not wave the flag like other countries, we are quietly proud,” said Kerrin Lee-Gartner, an Olympic gold medal winner in downhill skiing. And their opening ceremony was suitably classy. Or at least it managed to keep the ludicrousness to a minimum.”

Historian Andrew Ross on the Unknown Olympic Flag Bearer

12 02 2010

The Olympic Torch En Route to Vancouver

The Winter Olympics will begin in a few hours in Vancouver. (See here, here, and here). Nowadays, it is considered a great privilege for an athlete to be chosen as the country’s flag bearer during the Olympic opening ceremonies.  A few days ago, the identity of the person who will carry Canada’s flag tonight in Vancouver was a subject of speculation on the internet. The photograph of Clara Hughes, the person chosen, will probably grace the front pages of many newspapers tomorrow.

Clara Hughes

But this was not always the case. For instance, at the time of the 1936 Winter Olympics, nobody thought it worthwhile to record the name of Canada’s flag bearer.

Andrew Ross, Canadian Historian

Dr Andrew Ross, a historian of North American sport and business based at the University of Geulph, has some interesting observations about the identity of Canada’s flag bearer in 1936. Check out his most recent post on his hockey history blog.  Ross reports that historians have tentatively identified the 1936 flag bearer using this grainy photograph.

The Dominion of Canada's Flag at the Opening Ceremonies of the 1936 Winter Olympics

Historian Matt Hayday on the Vancouver Olympics and the Canadian Identity

26 11 2009

University of Guelph history professor Matt Hayday published a podcast on the Olympics and the Canadian identity crisis. The podcast is part of the Globe and Mail’s Intellectual Muscle series.

The student newspaper at the University of Guelph has published this summary of his talk:

“Because the Olympics are such an international forum, it’s a way of showing excellence on an international scale [it’s] almost like Canada breaking out of its little bubble of self-doubt, of constantly being in the American shadows… Canada seems to be having a bit of an identity crisis.  As a country that was founded as a colony for France and England, four hundred years later we appear to be having a tough time trying to figure out our national personality. After World War II, some realizations seemed to emerge for Canadians: we are not American, we need to be recognized on the international stage, and sporting heroes provide a rallying point for us to do it.”

Update: for more on the history of the winter Olympics, see here.