The 2006 Winter Olympics: Who Are the Real Champs?
|High in the Italian Alps, America's Olympics team once again comes out near the top...or do we?|
By Rick Steves
What a joy to have this year's Winter Olympics high in the Italian Alps. Torino was a fine host to this Olympiad... and got me excited for my upcoming summer trip to the sunny side of the Alps.
Some Americans were disappointed by our country's performance. By the conventional method for measuring success — number of medals won — we came in second to Germany. Watching the Games, I heard plenty of commentators grousing about our athletes "settling for" silver or bronze. I found myself thinking that, for athletes from small nations, any medal — no matter what color — is a huge accomplishment. Despite our stumbles — and some tenacious Germans — America was, as usual, one of the dominant countries in the medal standings. Every two years, I marvel at how great the American Olympic team does compared to the rest of the world. I imagine the spirits of most Americans, like me, soared to think we come from a land of such impressive athletes. But, one year, as I raved at how successful our team was, my Dutch friend told me — not too gently — that Americans have a lot of medals...but, per capita, the Dutch have six times as many. While Americans are not inclined to view the tallies this way, it lends an insightful twist to the numbers. Thanks to a nudge by my Dutch friend, I did the arithmetic for the 2006 Winter Games...
Medal Standings Regardless of Population
|Rank||Country||Number of Medals|
Medal Standings If Each Country Had the Same Population
These figures are weighted to match the United States' 296 million people. Numbers in parentheses are actual number of medals won, followed by that country's population in millions.
|Rank||Country||Medals Won||Citizens per Medal Won
(Medals Per Captia)
Congrats to the Norwegians, the unquestioned Olympic champions! Not surprisingly, the top six winners are wealthy European countries, with the perfect combination of cold weather, mountains, and plenty of money to invest in winter sports. Relative poverty might explain why other cold-weather countries — such as Poland and Ukraine — do relatively poorly. (What if per capita income were taken into account?)
My Dutch friend will be pleased to note that the Netherlands have beaten us squarely, with more than six times as many medals as the United Sates. But if it's any consolation, we're still ahead of Britain, China, and Japan. So America, wave the flag and be proud. We did great. On a per capita basis, our athletes are right up there with Belarus and Australia. Not too bad... but not quite on par with Latvia or Croatia.