June 30, 2005

Performance Legacy Due to Olympic Hosting

Sometimes in this space, I pass along news; sometimes, I add my own opinion. What I enjoy most, though, are the essays where I present some numbers that support or knock down a theory. I've taken to calling these posts "left-brain specials" since Ratch poked some good-natured fun at my tendency to over-analyze. You can see a list of my left-brain specials over to the right.

Usually, I try not to knock down one of my own theories. It's a little embarassing. But you can't always make the facts fit your theory.

A couple of weeks ago, I stated my opinion that hosting an Olympic Games, summer or winter, can have a large positive impact on a country's future Olympic performance. After I wrote that post, I realized that if I was right, it should be pretty easy to back up that statement with some facts. What if we looked at medals won by the host country, leading up to and following the Games that they hosted? If hosting had some lasting benefit, then it should show up in the data. And if it didn't show up in the data, well then I would have to change my story, wouldn't I?

What followed next is pretty complicated, even by my standards, and it would take quite a while to describe the details of what I did, but I'll see if I can sum up the most important points.

The study includes all the Olympics between 1948 and 2004, excepting as usual the heavily boycotted games in 1980 and 1984. The summer study includes only the 45 winningest nations (counting medals) during this period. The winter study includes only the 20 winningest nations.

The performance score I used was the medal fraction; that is, the number of medals a country won, as a percentage of the total number of medals available. This method was used to account for the fact that the number of Olympic medals awarded has increased dramatically since 1948.

Within each group (summer or winter) I used the nations that did not host an Olympics to establish a baseline trend. In other words, I wanted to know if medal scores, on average, increased, decreased, or stayed the same during this period. I used the nations that did host an Olympics to establish an average trend for the long-term impact of hosting.

Where nations were created, or destroyed, or boycotted, unified, or divided, I tried to be careful about how they were counted.

Figure 1

Figure 1 — Effect of summer Olympic Hosting 1948-2004

Figure 1 — The effect of summer Olympic hosting on performance, 1948-2004 (click to enlarge).

OK, now for the results. Inset at right you will see two graphs, one for summer Olympic hosting and one for winter Olympic hosting. Let's just look in detail at Figure 1, and I'll try to explain what it shows. The formats of the two graphs are identical.

Here's how we should read the results. On the horizontal axis, 0 (zero) represents the present, -4 represents four years ago, +4 represents 4 years in the future, etc. Nations that have not hosted the summer Olympics in the post-war era are represented by the blue circles. The medal fraction at -4 years is defined to be 100. Figure 1 shows that the medal score for non-hosting nations at 0 years is 99, and at 16 years is 87. What this means is that, on average, a non-hosting nation's medal share will be 1% lower at this Olympics than it was at the previous Olympics, and it will decrease by another 12% over the next four Olympics.

Nations that are hosting the summer Olympics in the present year are represented by the red squares. Again, the medal fraction at -4 years is defined to be 100. Figure 1 shows that the medal fraction for the current host is 190 in the host year, 121 four years later, and 89 four years after that.

Figure 2

Figure 1 — Effect of winter Olympic Hosting 1948-2004

Figure 2 — The effect of winter Olympic hosting on performance, 1948-2004 (click to enlarge).

The error bars on each curve should not be taken too literally, but the relative sizes indicate how many independent measurements are included in each data point; where the error bars are large, there are only a few countries contributing to a data point.

I think that there are two interesting conclusions that we can draw from the data. First, the "home-field advantage" of hosting an Olympics is much larger than I would have guessed. On average, the summer host benefits from a 90% increase in medal fraction; the results for the winter Olympics are qualitatively similar, although the host benefit is a relatively modest 63%.

The point of the study, though, was to try to quantify the long-term benefits of Olympic hosting. I am forced to conclude that the results contradict my original hypothesis. Figure 1 shows a slight benefit four years after hosting a summer Olympics, but beyond that the host and non-host curves overlap. Figure 2 shows a "host hangover" effect where the host nation actually does worse than you would expect from a non-host nation in the Olympics following the home games.

There is some hint that countries may get a long-term benefit from the run-up to the Olympics. Note that the host nation scores at -16 years are very low for both winter and summer sports. This supports the idea that a host nation obtains its host benefit in the 16 years prior to hosting, as it prepares for the big event, and that this improvement is then carried over into the post-host period. However, I suspect that this improvement is not real. Note that the scores at -20 years are actually quite good, in line with non-host performance. If the improvement from -16 years to -4 years is real, then what explains the dropoff from -20 to -16?

Figure 3

Figure 1 — Effect of winter Olympic Hosting 1948-2004

Figure 3 — The effect of Olympic hosting on Canadian performance (click to enlarge).

This is not to discount the fact that Canada's Olympic performance improved dramatically following its two home Olympics. Figure 3 shows the data for Canada alone, presented in the same format as the host nation data in Figures 1 and 2. In this case, the two different data sets represent Canada's summer and winter Olympic performance in the post-war era. The winter data are presented with 1988 as the present (0 years), and the summer data are presented with 1976 as the present (0 years). In both cases Canada has seen a dramatic and sustained improvement that followed a home Olympics. However, the overall data suggest that this does not hold for host nations in general. Either Canada has managed that advantage particularly well, or the timing of the performance improvement was a coincidence.

June 28, 2005

Another Olympic Alliance

The Chinese are at it again, signing another agreement to pool Olympic knowledge. This one's a bit more interesting than the rest, though. Previously China has agreed to collaborate with a bunch of Olympic minnows; for example, Canada and Kenya. China really has nothing to lose, and everything to gain, from those kind of arrangements. They know that Canada has some expertise in a small group of sports, but isn't any threat to China in the Olympic medal table.

This time, they're jumping in with an Olympic shark, teaming up with Russia. It's an interesting gamble; there may be lots to learn from the Russians, but they might also be giving up their own edge in a variety of sports.

I will be curious to see how this alliance plays out.

Justin Gatlin Undisqualified

There was a surprising story at the U.S. Track and Field Championships this week. In the 100m preliminaries, Olympic champion Justin Gatlin was disqualified for a false start. The referee decided to put him into the semifinals anyway. Gatlin advanced to the final, and won.

On the face of it, it looks like the USATF has bent the competition rules to accomodate one of their stars. That's not something that the USATF is known for. Every year there are high-profile flame-outs at the US Track and Field trials, and some big stars end up staying home. In fact I would say that the USATF is notorious for having one of the strictest selection policies in the world: we're going to line you all up today, and the winners are on the team. Sorry, Dan O'Brien, I guess you're not good enough to make the U.S. team.

Looking at a couple of other sources, however, this might not be quite what it first seems. This article on Eurosport contains a hint of Gatlin's defense:

I reacted to another athlete in the field and I guess that (false start) was not called. I reacted to somebody else and that's all I can really say.

The Eurosport article states that the "reinstatement came after officials reviewed a computer printout, which showed there was motion in the lane next to Gatlin."

I have no idea whether this is true or not, but at least there is a basis for the decision to be overturned, under the rules. IAAF rules state:

Rule 161.2 (Starting Blocks) … the starting blocks shall be linked to an IAAF approved false start apparatus. The Starter … shall wear headphones in order to clearly hear the acoustic signal emitted when the apparatus detects a false start (i.e. when reaction time is less than 100/1000ths of a second). As soon as the Starter … hears the acoustic signal, and if the gun is fired, … there shall be a recall and the Starter shall immediately examine the reaction times on the false start apparatus in order to confirm which athlete(s) is/are responsible for the false start.
Rule 162.6 (The Start: False Start) An athlete, after assuming a full and final set position, is only allowed to commence his starting motion after the report of the gun … . If, in the judgement of the Starter …, he fails to do so, it shall be deemed a false start. It shall also be deemed a false start if, in the judgement of the Starter: … (b) an athlete after the command "on your marks" disturbs the other athletes in the race through sound or otherwise. Note: When an approved false start detection equipment is in operation (see Rule 161.2 for operational details of equipment), the evidence of this equipment shall normally be accepted as conclusive by the Starter.
Rule 162.8 (The Start: False Start) The Starter or any Recaller, who is of the opinion that the start was not a fair one, shall recall the athletes by firing a gun. Note: In practice, when one or more athletes make a false start, others are inclined to follow and, strictly speaking, any athlete who does so has also made a false start. The Starter should warn only such athlete or athletes who, in his opinion, were responsible for the false start. This may result in more than one athlete being warned. If the false start is not due to any athlete, no warnings shall be given.

So it's possible that the referee decided that one of the athletes next to Gatlin "disturbed the other athletes in the race through sound or otherwise," using the output from the false start detection equipment as evidence. That being the case, the offending athlete should have been given a false start, under rule 162.6(b); and Gatlin, having been induced to jump the gun, should not have been given a false start, under rule 162.8.

Adam Nelson

Adam Nelson and Friend

It still smells a bit fishy, Gatlin being the Olympic Champion and all; I wonder how that protest would have been treated if it came from some other schmo? But we'll never know. In the end, the USATF gets to send its Olympic champion to the World Championships, so I am sure that they are happy with the decision.

$12K in Advertising for MedivoxRx?

Following up on a previous story, Adam Nelson finished second in the shotput.

Hmmm, is that a dancing pill bottle I see?

June 27, 2005

And a Big Finger to the Fans …

The UCI, like many Olympic IFs, has been working on its image. In order to secure a place on the Olympic programme for cycling, the leaders of the UCI have been working to make it more popular. And there are only certain kinds of popularity that count — primarily, the number of eyeballs watching on TV.

So the UCI came up with a plan. With the IOC's blessing, they decided that they wanted to add BMX to the 2008 programme.

In general, the IOC doesn't oppose this kind of thing, but lately they've been a bit sticky about scope creep. They're really trying to keep the number of sports, the number of medals, and the number of athletes under their self-imposed cap (see also: boxing).

So when the UCI wanted to add BMX, they knew that there would have to be some cuts somewhere else. Recently, they announced where they're going to make those cuts, and boy, have they put their foot in it.

The victims here are the two track time trials: the men's 1000m (a.k.a. "the kilo") and the women's 500m. The kilo has been in the Olympics since 1928, while the women's 500 was just added in 2000.

For a look at how this is going over in the track cycling world, here's a piece from VeloNews (Aussies Irked), and a selection of the very heated coverage at BikeBiz.com (Universal Disbelief, Which NFs Voted?, IOC denies UCI President's Claim). BikeBiz.com, in particular, is doing a nice job sorting out exactly how this happened, politically speaking, and I'll leave that to the experts.

You could never cut a sport from the Olympics without upsetting somebody, and a certain amount of outrage is unavoidable. Nevertheless, this decision seems a bit irrational. Apparently the UCI were told that they had to cut out two medal events if they wanted to add two medal events, and they also probably have a quota for the total number of athletes. Faced with these restrictions, they decided to cut out the two individual time trials.

Frankly, this doesn't make a lot of sense. First of all, cutting out the two time trials is probably going to decrease the number of nations competing in track cycling. The time trials are good "entry events" for small countries; you don't have to support a big team, and the athletes can train without a big support infrastructure. Reducing the number of participating countries doesn't make cycling look good when it comes time for IOC evaluation.

And if we're talking about cuts, there are a couple of other choices that might have made more sense. Now, I am not a huge track cycling fan, and I live in North America, which limits my exposure; but I do watch a lot of the Olympics, and I have never seen the keirin on TV. Here's the description from the UCI website; I have read it several times and I still can't believe it:

In this event from Japan, 6 to 8 riders square up against one another in a sprint of from 600 to 700 m held after riding for around 1400 m behind a trainer on a moped, gradually increasing in speed from 30 to 50 km/h.

So basically it's 1400m of not racing, followed by 600m of racing? Brilliant. Additional information: at the Olympics, the keirin is only competed by men, and there were 17 participants in Athens.

Next we present the madison:

This requires a perfect understanding. The event is between teams of two riders with intermediate sprints. The ranking is drawn up on distance and the points won by the riders. With a maximum of 18 teams, generally run over 50 km, this is a spectacular event. The tea[m] members can take over from each other as and when they like, by touching hands or cycling shorts. While one of the riders is in the race, the other one goes round at slower speed.

I'll have to take their word that this is "spectacular," because I have never seen the madison on TV, either. (And if you can't adequately explain an event in a couple of sentences, it's probably too complicated for your average BMX fan anyway.) Again, the madison is only open to men at the Olympics; there were 18 participating nations (36 athletes) in Athens.

So even if you accept that BMX absolutely has to be added to the programme, and at the expense of track cycling, wouldn't it make sense to ditch these two obscure men's events, rather than the premiere sprinting events?

And anyway, who says track cycling should pay? Over at the road events, the Olympics play second fiddle to the professional European tour, at least for the men; and then you've got those unending drug problems. And watching the road time trials on TV is like … well actually I like watching the road time trials, but I'm a bit odd that way.

And while we're at it, who thinks it's a great idea to put BMX into the Olympics, anyway? The IOC likes to talk about limiting the size and scope of the Olympics, but how much is it going to cost the Beijing organizers to add a BMX track? When I attended the Olympic closing ceremonies, BMX was part of the entertainment. The Olympic games are supposed to be about sports. The two terms are not synonymous, believe it or not.

Of course, we all know why the UCI wants BMX; it's because it's going to bring in a huge TV audience of young people with money. Maybe BMX can be to cycling what beach volleyball is to volleyball, or what half-pipe snowboarding is to alpine skiing. Trying to make your sport more popular is not a bad thing. But let's have a little consideration for the people who already like cycling! This kind of marketing drives me nuts, and you see it all the time in sports: chasing after the audience you don't have, all the while giving a big "screw you" to the audience you do have.

June 22, 2005

OK, Maybe I Do Care, Just a Little

I've been saying for some time that the race to host the 2012 summer Olympics is much less exciting than the media make it out to be.

Despite my professed lack of interest, however, I have been leaving a trail of long-winded comments everywhere I go (The Sports Economist, and a followup, SportsProf, SportsFilter). I'm forced to conclude that I do care, at least about some aspects of this debate.

Let's talk about hosting, then.

IOC Evaluation Commission Report

On June 6, the IOC released the Evaluation Commission report on the five candidate cities. I didn't read it, myself, since I was still pretending not to care, but it quickly set a record for the most downloaded IOC document ever. You might want to get in on the action.

I still don't think that the report has more than a tiny influence on the voting, mind you.

NYC2012 Scrambling for Plan B

There have been some amusing developments in New York, where the proposed Manhattan stadium has been shot down by the state government. That's forced the organizers to go to plan B, which is a stadium in Queens. You can see two slightly different perspectives on these events at the Telegraph and the New York Post.

None of this changes my opinion that New York is going to lose, and lose badly, and would have lost badly even with their original plan. Barring something strange happening, like a sudden upwelling of support for Africa, the US is a shoo-in for 2016. But they never had a chance against Paris and London for 2012.

Since the original stadium plan has fallen through, I'll probably never know whether this assertion is true or not. The guys over at NewYorkGames.org don't have that problem, although they're being pretty restrained with their I-told-you-so's. If you're interested in knowing more about what went wrong with NYC2012, it's the place to go.

So, Is Hosting a Good Idea, Or Not?

Well, according to the IOC, every Olympic games since 1976 has made a profit. Even the 2004 version in Greece. I know what you're thinking — that can't be right, can it? Well, you've got to read the fine print; the Athens organizing committee made a profit, but the Greek government lost its shirt.

That's how it generally works, in a nutshell. Governments shell out the big dollars for venue and infrastructure construction, and National Olympic Committees (and the IOC) collect the guaranteed revenues from TV rights, sponsorship, and ticket sales. Whether this is good for your average citizen or not is a matter of some debate. Of course, the answer will depend on just how much public money is being spent, and how.

Too Big?

The IOC has been worrying about the size and scope of the Games for about a hundred years:

"It would be very unfortunate, if the often exaggerated expenses incurred for the most recent Olympiads, a sizeable part of which represented the construction of permanent buildings, which were moreover unnecessary - temporary structures would fully suffice, and the only consequence is to then encourage use of these permanent buildings by increasing the number of occasions to draw in the crowds - it would be very unfortunate if these expenses were to deter (small) countries from putting themselves forward to host the Olympic Games in the future."

— Pierre de Coubertin, April 1911

There's little doubt that Olympic hosting is much more expensive than it really needs to be. Some solutions to the problem would be fairly simple. For the World Games, for example, hosts are required to use existing venues. The size of the Games is a common topic of discussion within the IOC. In 2003 the Olympic Games Study Commission released a report (PDF) on the size and scope of the Games and how they might be streamlined.

On the other hand, it's not entirely clear that the current situation is really the IOC's fault. I can't really blame the IOC for wanting to have the most spectacular and glamourous Olympics possible. After all, more spectacle means bigger audiences and more money. And clearly there are still governments out there that are eager to foot the bill. Do we really expect the IOC to turn them away? If anything, there seem to be more and more countries eager to play host, so I don't think we are going to see a scaling back any time soon.

Hosting and Performance

I haven't run a "left-brain special" here for a while, and I have one almost ready to go. This one looks at the long-term impact of hosting the Summer and Winter Olympics, from a performance perspective. But that is still a story for another day.

June 20, 2005

What Will I Learn Next?

We can add something else to the list of things I know nothing about. Some expert I am turning out to be. First, it was the World Games, and now I am shocked to find out that millions of people around the world celebrate June 23 as Olympic Day. And this is really a worldwide phenomenon; even the UN gets into the act.

I think it's fairly safe to say that Olympic Day is not widely marked in North America, although Canada was one of the original participants. In 2004, the COC and McDonald's sponsored Olympic Day runs at nine elementary schools across the country. That's nine schools times one kilometre, in case you are scoring at home.

Now I've mentioned McDonald's in two consecutive posts. I wonder if I could work out some kind of sponsorship agreement …

June 17, 2005

Olympic Games "Linked" to Obesity

About a week ago I ran across this very brief item on NZCity (we scour the English-speaking world …). The article claims that researchers have linked the 2008 Olympic games to an obesity epidemic in China.

No, wait a minute. That's not right. Actually, the article says that Dr. Geoff Dickson, a researcher at the Aukland University of Technology, believes that the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing will lead to an obesity epidemic in China.

So I wondered, to myself, what kind of "research" is going on here? I tracked down a bit more information about Dr. Dickson and his theory. Dr. Dickson is the Head of Research for the Department of Sport and Recreation within the Faculty of Health at AUT. His paper has been published (with co-author Grant Schofield) in the International Journal of Sport Management and Marketing under the title "Globalisation and globesity: the impact of the 2008 Beijing Olympics on China." (I'll note here that Dr. Dickson is a member of the Editorial Board at IJSMM.)

You can read the whole article (PDF) here. Here's my summary of the theory:

  • Chinese people are eating more and exercising less.
  • Poor diet and low physical activity are bad for one's health.
  • The 2008 Olympics will lead to more foreign direct investment in China by companies that encourage poor diet and low physical activity.
  • Hosting the Olympics does not lead to a "trickle-down" increase in participation and physical activity that might offset the effects of the above. (This is an interesting thought, and worth following up on.)
  • Therefore, the 2008 Olympics will contribute to an obesity epidemic and a health crisis in China.

A nice logical argument, as far as it goes, but the line connecting the Olympic games to the obesity epidemic ("globesity") is stretched pretty thin. I am sure that the "unhealthy lifestyle" companies noted in the study (official Olympic sponsors Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Volkswagen, Panasonic, Samsung, Legend Group, and General Electric) would be quite pleased to increase their sales in China. However, that would be true whether they were Olympic sponsors or not, and these companies would still be making a large direct investment in the Chinese market. The paper offers no real evidence that Olympic sponsorship is a more effective form of marketing than any other, on a per-dollar basis, or that it has caused a net increase in foreign direct investment.

In the end, the authors are really making a political (or possibly a public health) point, and not a scientific one:

We call upon the IOC to establish a Physical Activity, Nutrition and Health Commission … A Physical Activity, Nutrition and Health Commission would be in a position to ensure that each Olympic Games bid city makes an effort to promote healthy nutrition and physical activity.

Dickson and Schofield go on to suggest an addition to the Olympic charter. You may be surpised to learn that the 109-page Olympic charter (PDF) never mentions fitness, and mentions health only in the context of the athletes. Dickson and Schofield would like to see exercise and diet placed on at least an equal footing with the environment on the list of the IOC's concerns.

And you know what? I like this idea. The IOC really should try to ensure that the Olympic games leave behind a legacy of better fitness and health; after all, that's often one of the arguments that governments hear when they are asked to subsidize high-performance sports. Shouldn't the people get what they think they are paying for?

New World Record in Men's 100m

Asafa Powell of Jamaica set a new world record for the 100m this week.

The explainer at Slate.com has a good primer on timing in track and field titled Can We Trust Track & Field Records? (No comments about steroids, please.)

June 15, 2005

Australian Federal Budget, Part 2

Last week I posted a sketchy summary of the recent Australian federal budget as it pertains to amateur sport. Most of that information was gathered from two press releases by the Australian Olympic Committee, and I found it confusing and sometimes contradictory.

A short time later I found this document on the minister's web site, which is much more helpful. It turns out that the "$50M" I mentioned in my previous post is actually "an additional $52.3M over four years … for Australia's high-performance sports programmes." So the earlier press releases were mostly discussing new funding, specifically for high-performance sport, without touching on the base level.

The 2005-06 federal budget for sport, as a whole, is actually more than $380M. This includes money for grassroots development and participation, which means it is a fair comparison to the Sport Canada budget.

The 2005-06 federal budget for Sport Canada is $140M.

On a per capita basis, Australia spends about $19 Australian dollars per person, while each Canadian gets about $4.30 Canadian. (At today's exchange rate, that's about $4.50 in Aussie dollars.)

Even if we subtract out the contributions for staging the 2006 Commonwealth Games ($150M in 2005-06), which could be seen as an exceptional one-time budget item, Australia is still outspending Canada about 2.5-to-1.

And here's that 2004 medal table, one more time.

June 14, 2005

Programme Commission Report Released

I've been super busy lately, but if you are looking for some reading material, the IOC Programme Commission report (PDF) has been released to the general public. The report assesses each of the 28 summer Olympic sports against the IOC's 33 criteria.

There is a lot of information here, including comments from the IFs themselves, but the report doesn't make any recommendations. I'll slowly have a go at this and see if I can glean any insight into what's going to happen in Singapore. If you're interested in comparing different sports, it's a worthwhile reference to have.

Denis Oswald's Political Problem

The International Rugby Board and its members are not too pleased about Denis Oswald's comment that rugby sevens is "something of a joke."

The IRB is shrewd enough to see this small gaffe as an opportunity:

The IRB is therefore asking that rugby, and the other four short-listed sports, be allowed to present to the IOC Members in Singapore in July so that our cases can be properly heard and understood before any vote is taken on the existing 28 sports.

If they do get the chance to make a presentation, it will be a nice bonus for them, a last opportunity to sway some IOC members to vote somebody out.

As an IOC member, Oswald has clearly put his foot in it. (To be fair, Oswald framed his criticism as a second-hand barb, but that doesn't really excuse it.) As president of the ASOIF, on the other hand, he's showing appropriate loyalty to his constituents, by trying to convince the IOC that a change to the programme would not be in the best interest of the Olympic movement.

But it's a delicate balancing act he's doing. His constituency within the ASOIF is fluid, and not really under his control. Who knows? In a month, it might include the IRB. And then he's going to have to change his tune.

June 08, 2005

Minority Shareholders, But Not Owners Yet

A few months ago, the COC and the winter NSFs announced a new joint funding structure called "Own the Podium — 2010." The program is a funding partnership between the COC, the winter NSFs, and the government funding agencies.

A little while later, I posted my thoughts about Canada's chances of achieving their very lofty goal of winning more medals than anybody else at the 2010 winter Olympics in Vancouver. In a nutshell, although I can understand the value of an inspiring goal, I think that the short time frame makes this one unrealistic.

Last month, the COC released some data that shows that Canada's winter performance continues to improve relative to the rest of the world (the story was picked up by several Canadian outlets including the Globe and Mail, although you'll need to register to access the article now).

Canada accumulated a total of 28 medals (10 gold, 10 silver, eight bronze) at 2005 World Championship events. Canada’s current medal haul is 10 more than in the 2001 World Championship year … Canada improved its ranking in total World Championship medals from fifth in 2001 to third in 2005 … [trailing] only Norway and Germany which captured 33 and 32 medals respectively. … Canada is rapidly closing the gap in its quest to reach the top of the podium. In 2001, the nation’s 18 World Championship medals represented a gap of 15 from first-place Germany. Four years later, Canada’s 28 World Championship medals are just five off the standard set by Norway.

This is very good, no doubt about it, and it just might point to a top-3 finish in 2006. However, just for reference, let me point out that the medal standings in 2002 were Germany 36, USA 34, Norway 25, Canada 17. Getting to third place will require a big improvement; getting to first place requires making that same improvement again. As far as my original assessment went, I don't see any reason to change it. We're still doing well in our "priority 1" sports, especially in speed skating; we're having more success in the critical "priority 2" sports, but I don't see the breakthroughs that get us past Germany.

Meanwhile, two of the "priority 3" sports that got cut loose by Own the Podium have had a brief reprieve, as the Calgary Olympic Development Association found some spare change to give to ski jumping and nordic combined. It's a good thing for the athletes involved, but it won't have much impact on the 2010 goal.

Who's Getting Nervous?

No, I'm not talking about the 2012 host city election.

Baseball joins the growing list of sports that are absolutely sure that they are not going to be voted off the Olympic Programme next month. In this case, they want us to believe that their recent anti-doping crusade and the upcoming World Baseball Classic will convince voters that they belong in the Olympic Games.

(International readers should note that the World Baseball Classic is not to be confused with the World Series, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the World.)

Meanwhile, IOC president Jacques Rogge continues to give his empty reassurances:

In 2002, we proposed to delete baseball. This time, we're not proposing to delete any specific sport and the fact that it's not a negative proposal is a good sign for all sports.

And the summer Olympic sports are still speaking (or is that begging?) with one voice, at least in public. But the brotherhood doesn't extend to sports that want to be on the Olympic programme. Here's ASOIF president and IOC member Denis Oswald:

When it comes to rugby I'm not a specialist but people within the sport tell me that rugby sevens is something of a joke.

And this coming from a rower!

June 07, 2005

Australian Federal Budget

There were a couple of stories last month about the recent Australian federal budget and the impact on amateur sport. I have had some interest in figuring out how much Australia actually spends on sport following a discussion on a previous post.

Unfortunately I find these two articles (pre-budget, post-budget) rather confusing. I don't know if there are any Aussies out there who can help me make sense of this. There are a bunch of numbers thrown around:

  • $50M budget commitment to sport
  • $14.8M to NSFs
  • $272.5M for Commonwealth Games over four years, with $184M for this year
  • $6.8M Direct Athlete Support provided to Commonwealth Games athletes from federal government; matching amount from Australian Commonwealth Games Association
  • AOC (non-government) provides $36M in funding
  • AOC demands $17M in government funding; $4.6M is Direct Athlete Support for Olympic athletes

During the 1995-2003 period, Sport Canada had an average budget of about $65M per year, of which they contributed about $24M per year to the NSFs for Olympic sports. They also contributed about $10M per year to the Athlete Assistance Program, which would be roughly equivalent to Direct Athlete Support. So overall it looks like Australia spends less money on sport than Canada does, which makes the medal table even more embarassing.

Of course, this may not be entirely fair, depending how funding responsibilities are divided up in Australia. It may be that there are other major sources of funding that are hidden here, or it may be that I am still confused about the federal numbers.

There's also an interesting little tidbit in here about Australia's plan to colonize Europe:

[AOC President John] Coates praised the decision to establish a “Euro hub” near Varese in Italy to be used by all sports … “Even though the games are in Beijing there will still be a need for our sports to travel to Europe for a high level of competition” he said. “Acclimatising in the European summer prior to the Athens Games proved a master stroke for the Australian Olympic Team.”

Canada should get in on this! After all, we face many of the same geographic problems that the Aussies do, although to a lesser degree. And pooling our resources would probably be a lot more efficient than either country going alone.

June 02, 2005

Make It Stop …

The press just can't get enough of the bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. That's partly due to the fact that five high-profile cities are involved (Paris, London, Madrid, New York, and Moscow), and partly it's just because the IOC has convinced everybody that the host city election is a dramatic, exciting, and important event.

And really, it is not.

I started out following the bid process fairly closely, but now I'm just tired of it. Every day there are a couple of dozen news stories reporting that London's chances are looking up, or New York is in trouble; that some Olympic champion is endorsing New York, and that Moscow is still serious. There's a lot of talk about "momentum" and merit, almost as if this was an athletic competition.

Which, again, it is not.

I'll be thankful when the voting is done and we can take a break from the spectacle. If you are interested, I haven't changed my original prediction, but I would like to emphasize that New York is toast; there is no chance that New York wins this bid, stadium or no stadium. I will be surprised if they survive the second ballot. Exactly which IOC members do they think are lining up to vote for them? It's either a serious delusion, or a devious way for politicians to get a new football stadium approved.

June 01, 2005

Back In MY Day …

Last week, Tennessee State University made a very nice gesture, unveiling a new monument honouring 59 athletics Olympians from TSU.

A little history: TSU dominated women's athletics throughout the 1960s. TSU athletes won the 100m in 1960, 1964, and 1968, and threw in a silver in 1964 for good measure; the entire gold-medal-winning 4 × 100m relay team in 1960 was from TSU. Olympic legend Wilma Rudolph ran for TSU. As a university, they've won more medals than many countries.

But rather than mention these incredible athletic accomplishments, this story just can't resist taking a shot at the modern athlete. Let us all mourn for the 60's, when TSU dominated women's athletics in the world. There must be some reason why they don't have that kind of success today. What could it be … Oh, I've got it! Today everybody's on steroids!

In an era where track and field is awash in scandal, with some of its biggest stars tainted by use or suspected use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, it is refreshing to know that TSU's Olympic legacy is untarnished … Instead, the Tigerbelles' success was forged out of sweat, not via some quick-fix trip to a lab. Daily workouts at 5, 9:30 and 2 fostered a work ethic that did not need chemical enhancement.

This kind of crap really irks me. Yeah, back in my day, athletes worked way harder than they do today, and they never cheated like they do today, and they were never unsportsmanlike like they are today, and they didn't make as much money as they do today.

Well, one of those things is true, anyway.

The TSU Tigerbelles of the 1960s (and beyond) were great athletes and great Olympians. But why is it impossible to believe that there are athletes around today who are just as great? OK, I grant you, some — a small number — of today's athletes are cheaters. But let's stop painting everybody with that brush, please.

I've already gone through something like this for the men's 100m, and I won't go into the full analysis again. But here's an interesting fact; both Wilma Rudolph and Wynomia Tyus, the best sprinters of the 60s, ran under 11.1 seconds at least once. Rudolph's 11.0 seconds in the 1960 final (on a cinder track!) was wind-aided (2-3 m/s) and so did not count as a world record (she ran 11.3 seconds in her semi-final). Tyus won the gold in 1968 in an unheard-of 11.08 seconds. That time was aided by the high altitude of Mexico City.

So now it's forty years later, when all you need to be a great sprinter is a "quick-fix trip to a lab." In 2004, guess how many of the world's best lazy, drug-injecting sprinters ran better than 11.1 seconds? Fourteen.

Does that seem like a big number to you? Does it seem unreasonable that there could be 14 women alive today that are better than the best sprinters TSU produced forty years ago? After accounting for 40 years of improvement in track surfaces, equipment, (legal) training methods, and nutrition, and an explosion of global participation in athletics, couldn't there be just a few women who are actually faster than Wynomia Tyus?

Again, I'm not denying that there are cheaters out there. We hear about them every day. But I think the evidence is fairly clear that everybody is not doing it.