February 15, 2006

That WaPo article on the evil Eurocentrism of the Winter Olympics

A reader writes:

Well, you're always saying that reporters can't do math, and it's true. Toss in a Washington Post Style reporter trying to moonlight as a sports analyst for the Olympics, and you have Paul Farhi's mess of a piece, "Where the Rich and Elite Meet to Compete".

Where to begin? In his effort to fit all the data into his Winter Games-exclusive/Summer Games-inclusive theory, he repeatedly ignores muddying facts. For example, Farhi writes that "only 17 countries have ever amassed more than 10 medals during the past 19 winter Olympiads. Only 38 countries have won even one medal...By contrast, the all-time list of summer winners is long and deep, extending to athletes from 143 countries, including such places as Tonga, Paraguay and Burundi."

Overall, 12,964 medals have been awarded during the Summer Games, compared to 2,054 for the winter. So athletes from 143 countries have won summer Olympics medals, and athletes from 38 countries have won winter Olympics medals, a 3.76 to 1 ratio. But the number of medals awarded is 12,964 medals to 2,054, a 6.31 to 1 ratio. So Mr. Farhi's outrage on the diversity of medal winners in the winter Olympics vis-a-vis the summer appears to be displaced.

But it's even worse than that: Farhi's 143 number is totally wrong. The actual number is 114.

Check out this wikipedia page: Many of the "143" countries that Farhi claims have won summer olympics medals were actually combinations of countries that won back in the era when team sports could include members from two or more nations....

When you make all the adjustments, the real count between summer and winter Olympics-medal winning countries is 114 to 38, not 143 to 38. 114 to 38 is a 3 to 1 ratio; Again, when you consider that the overall number of medals awarded in summer Olympics compared to winter Olympics is 6.31 to 1, Mr. Farhi's inclusivity/exclusivity theory weakens considerably.

Mr. Farhi also seeks to present the summer and winter games' big six historical winners as totally different groups, in both quantity and diversity:

"As always, the biggest delegations, and the big winners, will come from a familiar pool. In the history of the winter competition, dating from its inception in 1924, competitors from only six countries -- the Soviet Union/Russia, Germany (East, West and combined), Norway, the United States, Austria and Finland, in that order -- have won almost two-thirds of all the medals awarded. The Summer Games have medal hogs, too, but nothing like winter ones. The top six in the summer -- the United States, the Soviet Union/Russia, Germany, France, Britain and Italy -- have swept up slightly more than half the medals since the modern games started in 1896."

But there isn't a huge difference: by his own math, the big six all-time winners in the winter games have won "almost two-thirds of the the medals awarded" (it's actually 65.04%, 1,336 medals out of 2,054). So let's call that 65%. Are the summer games' top medal winners really "nothing like winter ones," as Mr. Farhi claims? Hardly -- as he writes, the top six all-time winners in summer games have taken "slightly more than half" of medals awarded. It's actually 51.22%, so call that 51%. Are 65% and 51% really so far apart? Not really...

Basically, the track events in the Summer Olympics are pretty much open to anyone above the hunter-gatherer level. Other than that, it's not a terribly level playing field. Even the field events in track & field are dominated by a fairly small number of powers.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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