Tenacity Quotient: The Alternative Rio 2016 Medal Table

Growing up as a Brit, watching sport on the global stage, it was easy to come to the conclusion that as a nation we seem to lack a certain killing instinct, that mental edge. All to often we seem to get over-awed by the big occasion — choke, lose our nerve, falter at the last hurdle. This is no better illustrated than by England’s penalty shootout record in international football (soccer) tournaments. Of the seven we have contested, we lost six. This is far greater than would expected by chance and hints at a fundamental lacking of nerve when it really mattered.

But let’s cease with all this negativity; this is not a tale of woe. Because … something has happened. Something has shifted beneath our feet without us really noticing. Suddenly … we are fricking nails (sorry, Aussie term). This is not just about absolute numbers, about mere medal tallies (which of course was staggering in Rio), but about holding our nerve at the final showdown, of getting the gold because silver just ain’t good enough.

But are there stats to back this up? Well, maybe the Olympics do offer the figures we need, buried in those medal tables. The distribution of medal colours within a team can be used as a proxy for this mental toughness of which we speak. It shows us, in that final tussle for the top positions, who conquered and who crumbled. Introducing the Tenacity Quotient (Qt): a value between 0 and 1, where 0 is all bronze, 0.5 is an even distribution, and 1 is all golds. So, let’s shake down the numbers. Below is the Rio 2016 table ranked by Qt:

Well done GB. We whooped in tenacity at Rio!

But here’s something more interesting. Let’s take a look at GB’s Qt over time:

The graph shows a stark improvement over the last 32 years which aligns with the experience of most GB supports. More interestingly (maybe), rather than a gradual improvement it seems to show a distinct step-up in 2000 — any theories?

This is all just for feel-good fun of course. But one final note would be to highlight one individual that best embodies this high Qt result, and that’s Mo Farah. On paper, he is not dominant in his times (unlike, say, Usain Bolt). On paper, he should always be in the mix for the medals, but not always win. Yet, when it matters, he does. He always does. He comes through. When he steps onto the track he owns it. The desire for gold, and only gold, is paramount. No-one is going to take it from him. And when hits that last lap, that finishing straight, the unfettered determination is palpable. The strength of mind to overcome the pain, to achieve his goal, is greater than anyone else’s. That’s why his Qt is 1.0. Let’s say that out loud: one point oh. 8 medals, 8 golds at Olympics and World Championships since 2012. Astonishing.

We could all do with being a bit more Mo sometimes.