Thursday, 25 October 2012

The Olympics are now over and ...

People who believe, contrary to Olympic doctrine, that there are no prizes for coming second are all around us. We may not see them, but they are there.

A less-than-famous boxer commenting ruefully on his erstwhile career, had the wit to say recently: "In my time I was the second best boxer in the country. I had 120 fights and I came second in every one of them."

But a new sport has arisen in recent years, spurred on no doubt by people whose countries have not done as well as they would have liked in the standard medals table: the invention of alternative medals tables, where teams that come second no longer have to.

"It's not fair!" their inventors cry. "Of course we were beaten by China, they have a billion more people than we do, and probably a lot more that they're not admitting to!" Thus is born a medals table by national population (in which we happily recover our lost prowess.) And there are variants: medals tables by size of team, for example, in which presumably a country which doesn't send any athletes at all will always do very well. Tables weighted according to gross domestic product have been championed in the cause of "fairness", and all manner of other statistical manipulations tried to achieve the nicest possible result. 

I particularly like the sport of examining the medals tables (I prefer the standard ones) for the ratios they yield of gold-to-silver and silver-to-bronze. Proponents of this sport see it as an index of the vigor of a particular nation's attitude to winning. It's obvious, so the theory goes, that if a country's gold-to-silver ratio is high, this is an indication that said country is not interested in coming second.

Well, there's a potential debate, if ever I saw one. But, too late! The Olympics may now be safely ignored for another three-and-a-bit years.

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