When assessing which country is winning the Winter Olympics, there are a few ways to look at it. Typically, in countries that lead in overall medal count, the media reports it as a race to see who can win crack the top three in as many events with as many athletes as possible. This is how we do it, because it makes us look better, though it’s the weakest way to look at the international competition, because medaling means losing 66.6% of the time (Silver, Bronze) and we hardly rank our domestic sports franchises/athletes based on the how frequently they came in 2nd or 3rd. Sure, Phil Mickelson’s and Tiger Woods’s legacies aren’t complete without a reference to the amount of times they ALMOST won, but it really is an afterthought relative to how much we value “Championships.”
Bottom-line: Winning is more important than losing.
Also, overvaluing “total medals” without factoring in the number of participants a country has, skews the value of the medals, seeing as a country with five snowboarders competing in the snowboard half-pipe is more likely to win more medals than the country with one.
The other way to determine which country is winning the Olympics is by number of Gold medals. Though a better indication of a given place’s dominance in an event, it falls short of telling the full story. As USA Today’s “For The Win” points out, we’d have trouble giving the Olympic macro-victory to a country with the most Golds but the 20th most medals overall. That’s more of a niche country that wins every speed skating event but doesn’t even compete in the other six sports (there are 98 events in total).
Then there’s the weighted method, which takes both into consideration, giving five points to Gold, three to Silver, and one to Bronze. Fair? Yes. The best way to determine who is winning the Olympics? Hardly. Here’s why…
There are 20 speed skating events. That’s right, speed skating makes up nearly a quarter of the Winter Olympics. The weighted method of determining who is winning the Olympics still doesn’t distinguish countries who do not dominate in a diverse group of athletic feats. We’re going for a more comprehensive measurement here, so variety of success is important. Just counting Gold medals gives countries like The Netherlands a huge advantage because they dominate in the sport that happens to have the most events. In that sense, measuring the winner of the Olympics by sheer Gold count would be like trying to find who the best golfer in the world by holding 10 contests, 3 of which are long drive.
So here’s the imperfect yet simple equation we’ve come up with to determine the subjective question as to which country is winning the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics:
(“Number of participants” – “Team and relay participants”) + “number of teams competing”
By this measure, the value of winning Gold is increased by the diversity of the sports with events that a country has won. (For the record, there are seven distinct sports at Sochi.) In our updated rankings, Canada just shot ahead of the U.S. and Russia (due to hockey Gold, which adds another sport, Gold medal, and total medal to their equation). Germany, who’ve only won one medal in the last two days, dropped from 2nd to 5th. Below that, The Netherlands continues to slide, as they haven’t won a medal since the long track speed skating events stopped. Norway, however, still has a commanding lead that makes them pretty much untouchable, which makes sense — they’re a small country that dominates winter sports and has won the highest percentage of events they’ve competed in. Take a look…