Saturday, August 11, 2012

There are too many swimming and gymnastics medals

As the 2012 Summer Olympics draw to a close, people get all upset about how the medal count does not truly reflect which country is the best because some events are not true sports, some other is over-represented or absent, or judged events do not count and team events should count more. This is all bullshit. First, the International Olympic Committee does not even have an official medal count. Second, any such discussion makes no sense if one does not at least take into account the size of the country. Nations with hundreds of millions of citizens will obviously have a better shot at finding star athletes in many disciplines, let alone find several of them for a team event. To take an example, that the Bahamas can be a medal contender in track relays is in my mind a much more valuable outcome than the US winning a handful of track gold medals. If anything, countries should be ranked by how much better they contended compared to what one would have expected from their size and development. The larger the positive forecast error, the better.

So much for the first part of my rant. The second is that some events are crassly over-represented, and here I am pointing my finger at gymnastics and swimming. My criterion here is the ease with which a single athlete can amass a multitude of medals. I can understand that when there is an exceptional athlete, it is OK for her to accumulate many distinctions. But when this happens repeatedly for a sport, there is a problem. Looking at the list of multiple medal winners on Wikipedia, it is striking how frequently gymnastics and swimming appear. For athletes with ten or more medals, we have 13 in gymnastics, 9 in swimming, 3 in cross-country skiing, 2 in track and field, 2 in fencing, 1 in shooting, 1 in canoeing, and 1 in biathlon, for a total of 32. No matter what statistical model you use, it is impossible to argue that the concentration of athletic outliers can be that high in gymnastics and swimming.


Anonymous said...

haha, I always figured you weren't American.

Don't be jealous dude.

Vilfredo said...

Swimming is a rich country sport. Only rich countries have the luxury of having olympic sized pools. The same applies probably for gymnastics training facilities. Just from that, you already severely reduce to potential for medal candidates.

But I still agree, even without this qualification, there are too many events.