February 28, 2006

One More Note on the Medal Tables

Last week I pointed out the discrepancy between what I called the "European" and "American" medal tables. The former ranks the countries by the number of gold medals won, whereas the latter ranks the countries by total number of medals, using gold medals as a tiebreaker. I should have pointed out that to many people these would be called the "right" and "wrong" medal tables, respectively.

There is a myth that the "ranking-by-gold-medals" method is the official, sanctioned way to keep the list. You will even find this myth on the official Torino 2006 web site:

The Olympic rules lay out that the Final Rank should be based on the overall number of gold medals won.

That, of course, is incorrect; as readers of this blog know already, the Olympic Charter states clearly that the Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries. In addition to Rule 6, I draw your attention to Rule 60, which could not be more clear on the subject:

The IOC and the [Organizing Committee of the Games] shall not draw up any global ranking per country.

Now, it is true that the IOC publishes medal tables, and it is also true that the tables are sorted by the number of gold medals. However, as you will see in the disclaimer here,

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) does not recognise global ranking per country; the medal tables are displayed for information only.

Therefore, we are free to rank the national Olympic committees as we see fit. I tend to agree with WM-K1-91 and DrJohnEvans in the comments here, that using the total number of medals gives a better idea about the relative success of the NOCs. In fact, it would be even better to keep track of fourths, fifths, etc. Alas, that information is not so easily obtained. On that note, I have seen it reported a few places that Canada had more fourth-place finishes than any other country. One wit from CBC radio, reporting on the alpine skiing results, opined that Canada "Owned pretty much all the territory right up to and surrounding the Podium." Funny stuff.

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