Posts Tagged Magdalena Neuner

Dummkopf of the Week…

Dummkopf of the Week...

When a German says something remotely controversial, all hell breaks loose. When somebody else does something so obviously bad that it demands a public horse-whipping, it’s somehow just a “gaffe” that elicits a litany of scarcely believeable excuses. Read the rest of this entry »

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Of skeletons, statistics and flying tomatoes

Of skeletons, statistics and flying tomatoes

OK, last week I scoffed at Canada’s “Own the Podium” campaign – and with their winning fourteen gold  medals I guess I will have to take a few bites of humble pie. The Canucks were the the best nation on show in 2010 in terms of Aurum, and fair play to them. What annoys me however is the sort of self-congratulatory whoop-whooping that is so uniquely North American, and the parroting of statistics that don’t hold up against any sensible analysis.

The biggest example is that of the “record” number of golds won at a single games.

There is no doubting that, statistically, the Canadians have won the most number of medals at a  single Winter Olympics. Read through the records and check out all of the completed medal tables, and you will see no total figure to match their golden 14. The same applies to the largest total  haul, the thirty-seven won by the United States.

That’s that, one may argue – the Canucks are the best.

Well, not quite.

Since 2002, there has been a rapid addition of a number of new sports (more on this later) which has  bloated the total number of events. At Vancouver 2010 there were 86 Olympic titles on offer, meaning  that there is a grand total of 258 medals available when one excludes the possibility of double  awards for tied events. At the 1976 games in Innsbruck – when the Soviet Union recorded the previous  highest gold haul of thirteen – there were a mere thirty-seven titles on offer, and a total of 111  medals in all.

It might make more sense to look at things in terms of percentages: in 1976, the Soviets won 13 out  of 37 available golds, thus winning just over 35%; in 2010, the Canadians won 14 out 86, which  measures up at just over 16%. No comparison really.

We then have the debate over how the positions on the medal table are actually decided: while both  the IOC and us sensible folks here in Europe rank the teams on the number of gold, silver and bronze  medals respectively (meaning that a team with one gold medal will rank higher than another with two  silvers or bronzes) the method used in North America is to rank by the total medal haul. This means  that a team that wins ten golds, ten silvers and zero bronzes can be behind a team that wins  twenty-two bronze medals – which is of course total nonsense.

What’s funny about Vancouver 2010 is that it created a rather comical scenario where Canada were top  of the table using the European method, but second to the United States using their own – resulting  in many Canadians suddenly adopting the European system to place themselves at the top of the table  ahead of their southern rivals. Given the rivalry between Canada and the United States, I can see this one  going on for while – at least until Sochi 2014 when the Russians will no doubt attempt to make their  own bid to “own the podium”.

Perhaps a better method would be a points system, say three for a gold, two for a silver and one for  a bronze. Or better still a 5-3-1 scale. Using this system, one would arrive at the following  rankings:

Country Gold (pts) Silver (pts) Bronze (pts) Total (pts)
United States 9 (45) 15 (45) 13 (13) 37 (103)
Canada 14 (70) 7 (21) 5 (5) 26 (96)
Germany 10 (50) 13 (39) 7 (7) 30 (96)
Norway 9 (45) 8 (24) 6 (6) 23 (75)
South Korea 6 (30) 6 (18) 2 (2) 14 (50)

As much as I would like to twist the calculations to generate another result, the United States  comes out on top here.

My own personal gripe however has been with the introduction of a number of new events, which in my view are not Olympic sports. This debate is of course not new, with the purists often decrying the  merits of what could be described as essentially North American “extreme” sports such as boarder  cross and the snowboard half pipe.

One dare not call it conspiracy, but from a commercial point of view a major worldwide sports event where the States were continually being whipped by the likes of Germany, Norway and Sweden was never  going to be a good thing. Cue the IOC stuffing the programme with a selection of extreme leisure activities enjoyed on the slopes of Aspen and Vail, and the Americans raking in a haul of thirty-seven medals – which, as far as they are concerned, puts them at the top of the pile. Job done, and the contract IOC has with the likes of McDonald’s and Coca-Cola is renewed for another  four years. When the Chinese start whipping the Amis at the summer games, watch out for a whole load  of Califonian stoner skateboarder “sports” and their derivatives making their way onto the Olympic programme. Though at least when some of these fellows fail a drugs test it won’t be for steroids or any sort of stimulant.

OK, I’ll be honest about it and admit that many of these crazy events are fun to watch. But Olympic sports? Nah. They are little more than car-crash style free-for-alls, with more often than not the  last person standing being the winner. If one were to remove all of the medals awarded for these “X  Games” events (and with it the grunge-rock dirges in between runs) and revert to a more traditional winter sports programme, the overall medal table would have a completely different feel with the likes of Germany and Norway sitting at the top.

The disciplines I would exclude would be:

– the freestyle skiing events: save it for the rowdy slopes at Vail, please.
– all snowboard events: ditto.
– short-track speed skating, which is perhaps the biggest free-for-all of all and a sport riddled  with curious disqualifications based on judges’ opinions.

The two other disciplines that have been added to the Winter Games programme since 1988, curling and skeleton bob, would be fine as they were previously part of the traditional programme before being  for some reason or another removed.

Therefore the list of disciplines would be (total titles available):

Alpine skiing (10)
Biathlon (10)
Bobsleigh (3)
Cross-country (Nordic) skiing (12)
Curling (2)
Figure skating (4)
Ice hockey (2)
Luge (3)
Nordic combined (3)
Skeleton (2)
Ski jumping (3)
Speed skating (12)

Total titles available: 66

Rather than introducing what are essentially leisure activities and elevating them to the status of  Olympic sports, a better idea would be to make the existing traditional discliplines more  egalitarian: for instance I can see no problem in introducing a four-woman bob or women’s ski  jumping (and, by extension, nordic combined).

Back to the medal table.

Having removed the “X Games” disciplines, we would be left with the following medal rankings:

Country Gold (loss) Silver (loss) Bronze (loss) Total (loss)
Germany 10 (-) 13 (-) 7 (7) 30 (-)
Norway 9 (-) 7 (-1) 5 (-2) 21 (-2)
Canada 8 (-6) 3 (-4) 4 (-1) 15 (-11)
United States 6 (-3) 11 (-4) 5 (-8) 22 (-15)
Sweden 5 (-) 2 (-) 4 (-) 11 (-)

Thus we would arrive at a revised “points” table:

Country Gold (pts) Silver (pts) Bronze (pts) Total (pts)
Germany 10 (50) 13 (39) 7 (7) 30 (96)
Norway 9 (45) 7 (21) 5 (5) 21 (71)
United States 6 (30) 11 (33) 5 (5) 22 (68)
Canada 8 (40) 3 (9) 4 (4) 15 (53)
Sweden 5 (25) 2 (6) 4 (4) 11 (35)

With this recalculation Canada has “lost” six of its gold medals and a total of eleven, while the US  has lost a staggering fifteen medals, including three golds. Other big losers are China (5-2-4  reduced to 1-2-4) and South Korea (6-6-2 reduced to 4-2-0). Traditional Powerhouses Germany, Norway and Sweden are essentially unaffected; the Norwegians only lose two minor medals, while the Swedes  leap to fifth on the list overall. An interesting statistic that may make Brits laugh is that  Australia (2-1-0) are suddenly reduced to a big fat zero, placing them below Great Britain with its single  skeleton gold.

Germany and Norway at the top, and Sweden making the top five. Now that’s more like it.

The unfortunate thing is that we are going to be seeing yet more of these popular yet mickey mouse  events – the celebrated snowboard half-piper Shaun “The Flying Tomato” White may thrill the crowds and  cause certain BBC commentators to suffer heart attacks, but all of this baggy-trousered over-in-a-flash excitement pales in comparison to watching the competitors out on the biathlon rifle  range or the nail-biting closing stages of a cross-country race.

While I can sit transfixed for hours watching a long-distance ski race and the ongoing tactical battles between the competiors, the short-burst spectacles can get rather boring. It’s circus-grade stuff: a double flip here, a triple twist there – well, OK. I guess this is why I have never seen the appeal of the circus: while the stunts pulled of by the trapeze artists were without doubt spectacular, I had usually had enough after a couple of minutes. As for the clowns, I have always suffered from mild coulrophobia. Maybe this is why I couldn’t quite get the hype surrounding The Flying Tomatoman, who with his baggy trousers and rather unruly shock of curly red hair looked like Pennywise on a snowboard. All he was missing was the silly red nose.

I can understand the commercial demands driving the introduction of more “popular” events – though this should not be taken to the extent where the very idea of the Olympics are tarnished. It’s all well and good expanding the programme to accommodate new disciplines, but events that are punctuated with loud and frankly unlistenable music  is something that will never sit right with me. Then again I can happily sit back and watch a bunch of guys or girls skiing through the woods for a couple of hours, which many of those with the  attention span of a gnat (for this read: the “wider audience”) would find incredibly boring. What  nobody wants to see are the traditonal sports being marginalised and the games being dragged into a stinking commercialised morass of crap pop music and toe-curling corporate razzmatazz.

The lingering threat of what is a great spectacle being turned into a festival of silliness is best described by Richard Williams in the Guardian:

“There is talk of adding sound and lighting to fencing. But why stop there? Turn it into an  11-a-side team sport, stage it in the state rooms of Hampton Court Palace, and you might end up with  something out of an Errol Flynn movie. When it comes to the rowing, add a bottleneck halfway down  the 2,000m six-lane course, through which all the crews have to pass.

The moment of the Vancouver games for me was not the thrilling downhill nor even André Lange winning  an unprecedented fourth gold medal in the two-man bobsleigh, but the final moments of the 50km cross-country Langlauf as Axel Teichmann’s valiant attempt to take the title was snatched from his grasp by the  Norwegian Petter Northug. Here was a man who turned on a burst of speed after spending over two  hours on skis: in his bright red suit, Northug’s display of almost superhuman skill and stamina was far more impressive than any showboating from the “Flying Tomato”.

While the casual viewer will be waxing lyrical about the half-pipe and freestyle aerials, the real  heroes and heroines of Vancouver 2010 – Northug, his compatriot Marit Bjoergen, German biathlete Magdalena Neuner – will never be known outside of their own fanbase. Why? Because their events were  whittled down to the thirty second “best of the rest” segment that was almost apologetically shoehorned in the end of every two-hour afternoon highlights package on the BBC. They didn’t even offer one of their oft-repeated dumbed down guides, probably because there were no decent British  competitors either past or present to provide the overview.

When it comes to the new-fangled stuff I at a puch can accept the racing events – at least it is a  simple case of beating the clock or making over the line first. Even if it may be a chaotic melée or  finish with all of the competitors ending up in a massive pile of skis, poles, goggles and helmets.  Those events where judges are involved is a different matter however. To us mere plebs, there is  little apparent difference between one acrobatic stunt and another; the difference between a  half-pipe 720 and 1080 are little more than a split-second blur. We cannot decide for ourselves who  is the best – save in those instances when someone comes crashing to earth on their behind – and the  decisions are all made by a bunch of so-called experts.

With something such as long-track speed skating, biathlon or luge it is pretty clear to everyone who  has won and who has lost: it’s all right there on the clock. No judges to spot some unclear difference in form or disqualify a competitor for some bizarre infringement – or keep others in the  competition in spite of said infringement. I felt the Koreans had been pretty hard done by in the  short-track speed skating with some of the disqualification decisions – decisions that might have swung the other way had they been competing at home. If the Winter Games are awarded to Pyeongchang,  look out for Korea sweeping the board in the short track, and for some silly sit-in protest sessions (á la Seoul 1988 with the boxing) if they don’t have things go their way.

On the subject of judged events, figure skating has seen some massive improvements, but I’d probably get shot of the ice dancing competition altogether – for the simple reason that it is little more than a pantomime sideshow where the central characters are still the judges rather than the competitors. From the silly outfits down to the unfathomable marking system, we might as well put it  on prime time television to complement the bumbling amateurs on Strictly Come Dancing On Ice or  whatever its called.

Of course, this would zap another of Canada’s gold medals. Ouch.

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