How to Win Scads of Medals at the Olympics (by taking advantage of their screwy system)

This is how it was back in Greece around 500 BC. (Image courtesy of WikiCommons.)

This summer over 10,000 athletes from 200+ countries will converge on Rio de Janeiro for the quadrennial Olympic Games. If convention holds, the biggest medal winners will be the USA, China, Russia, and maybe Germany. But there’s no reason that little countries like Luxembourg or Uruguay can’t put themselves among the elite, maybe not this year, but in eight years at the most. And it wouldn’t even cost that much. All they have to do is study how the Olympic Committee has set up the sports schedule and listen to my advice on what to do with this information. Think of it: any country with some foresight can go from “unknown” to “sitting on a throne.”

You doubt? Read on.

The secret is to understand how the Olympic Committee, due to whim or senility or favoritism or payoffs or whatever, has made the modern Olympics into a paella-like hodge podge of ingredients that makes little sense. (Unlike paella.) Sports now appear that most Americans hardly recognize, much less particpate in, e.g. handball and dressage. The American pasttime is nowfootball, but that’s not an Olympic sport, at least not our kind. And sure, everyone knows baseball, but that’s not in the Olympics either. It got kicked out after after 2008, the first sport to be eliminated since 1936! But judo is still in the Olympics, and lots of judo at that.

So you and your country, wherever you might be, can take advantage of this unholy mess. Just take a look below at this year’s menu. (The number after each sport explains how many subdivisions there are in each category, i.e. swimming has 34 events, each awarding a gold, silver, and bronze medal, 102 medals in all.)

Now here’s where some comparisons beg for attention. As most of you know, the world’s most popular sport, by far, is football (known to us as soccer.) The World Cup of Football is easily the most watched single sport competition on the planet. Nothing else comes close. And sure enough, the Olympics doesn’t let the world down. Football is definitely there (see Column 2). But just a few lines below it comes rhythmic gymnastics, which are not appreciated so highly. But that doesn’t mean they’re not worthy of attention. Here’s a sample:

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This girl is doing some incredible balancing while she’s spinning that hula hoop around her neck. The girl behind her performs with a long ribbon attached to a stick. There’s no doubt of these ladies’ athletic prowess. But call me crazy, I just don’t think this is a sport that is up there in popularity with football (soccer).

“So what?” you say. “They’re really talented, they work hard, and it’s still a sport if the Committee says it is, isn’t it?”

Yes, you’re right, but if you go up to the list of Olympic events again, you’ll find that football is awarded two gold medals — one for the men’s team and one for the women’s — and rhythmic gymnastics gets — you prepared for this? — two gold medals. As far as medal totals go, football counts no more than this one type of gymnastics. Notice I say “this one type.” That’s because if you go back to that same list, you’ll see that gymnastics has 14 separate medals categories and so awards 42 medals in all (gold, silver, and bronze) compared to football’s 6.

But hey, it gets weirder. Taekwondo (see photo below) gets four times the respect that football does. Eight categories!

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Yes, it looks like karate. And karate’s a lot more famous. But taekwondo is different and it was invented by the Koreans in the 1940s and 1950s. Sokarate must be worth at least as much as taekwondo, right? WRONG! Karatedoesn’t even make the grade as an Olympic sport, even though it’s far more well known. But judo does — with 14 events!

14?? Huh? It’s all so wack!

By now you’ve probably perused that list and you’ve seen that Athletics gets the greatest number of gold medals awarded: 47. “And what is athletics?” you ask. “Isn’t all the Olympics athletics?” Well, yes, but here athletics refers to what we usually call track and field. Most of these events we’re acquainted with, though you might not be that familiar with the 3000 meter steeplechase, where the runners have to go around the track for about two miles, but every 100 meters or so, they have to jump over a wall and then they land in a big puddle of water before slogging on. If you’re reminded of the steeplechase that horses run, yes, it’s the human version of that same spectacle. That’s right. They took an event for horses and morphed it into a human event. What’s next for us: hooking humans up to chariots?

Two other events in athletics that might surprise you are the 20 km and 50 km racewalk for men and women. That’s right — racewalking. It’s for when you want to go really fast with your feet, but you don’t want to run. Andracewalking is good for four sets of medals, twice as many as for football orbasketball or golf or the triathlon or rugby. Think about it. The USA men’sbasketball team will have to play eight games if they hope to win the gold in Rio. The tournament lasts two weeks. If they triumph, the USA men win one gold medal. (Same story for the women’s team.) That’s the same number as a single racewalker will get for a couple hours work. It’s not that I begrudge the racewalking man or woman their gold medals. It just doesn’t seem right that their “sport” is regarded as twice as “valuable” as basketball, easily one of the most popular sports in the world.

Need I get into horse dancing, prancing, and jumping — okay, I gave synonyms for the first two categories — (6 events), shooting (15 events), andsailing (10 events) to prove to you that the relative value given to different sports is, to put it mildly, skewed?

But if they’re smart, some countries can take a definite advantage from this lopsided way of comparing sport values. Look below at the medal totals from the 2012 London Olympics. (I have included only the top tier.)

Graph Courtesy of Wikipedia

Now looking again at the list of Olympics events (four images above), if I were the Director of the National Sporting Federation for say, the aforementioned Luxumbourg or Uruguay, I would initiate intense nationwide programs to develop world-class competitors in the following sports (shown with the number of total medals awarded in each category):

1. Rowing/Canoeing/Kayaking — 90 medals total (including Gold, Silver, and Bronze)

2. Shooting — 45 medals total

That’s it! 135 possible medals for two basic skills. And you don’t have to be monstrously strong (like weightlifters) or able to glide through water like a sailfish (swimmers) or capable of completing triple somersaults with 2 1/2 twists (like the gymnasts). Heck, for shooting, all you need is eye-hand coordination. So just get those young’uns some paddles and some guns and some good coaches and your little country might pick up at least 30–40 medals, enough to put you among the top ten sports countries in the world, according to Olympic results.

That’s sure a lot easier than having your national football or basketball teams work their butts off with little hope of beating the traditional powers in those two sports.

So enjoy the Olympics, but if any of you out there want your progeny or your country to succeed in the Olympics, take my advice to heart.

After disappearing for 16 centuries, the Olympics were revived in 1896. Here’s how they looked back then.

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