The true Olympic gauge: Medals Per Capita Table

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Everybody says the great medal-count derby of Beijing 2008 will boil down to China vs. the United States, but as usual, everybody’s wrong.

Neither China nor the United States has any chance at the top honor.
Oh, they’ll have their little scuffle in the lazy, uninformative, snobbish, egregious Medals Table all right. They’ll count up their raw numbers of medals and feign honor.


They just won’t even sniff contention in the diligent, rational, egalitarian, humble Medals Per Capita Table, the only table that reflects real national accomplishment. Refraining from the sloth of the horrendous Medals Table, the MPC Table actually sits down and does the math, with the help of that little calculator attainable from the bottom left corner of the laptop.

It divides national population by total medals, mindful of the inarguable fact that China, with 1.33 billion people, or the United States, with 303.8 million, should get more raw medals than, say, Australia, with 20.6 million.

Now, is either of those countries as studly as Australia?

Not a chance.

The Medals Per Capita Table first appeared -- to zero fanfare -- at Salt Lake City 2002, as a brainchild of myself and fellow sportswriter Laura Vecsey, with a lot more Vecsey than myself, to be frank about it.

It computed then that the Norwegians were made of the finest stuff on the Earth, an outcome that did not prompt a surge in lutefisk consumption only because people in general have no sense.

Germany and the United States got all chesty about their “first-place” 35 medals and “second-place” 34 medals, but they wrung them from populations so large they posted MPC quotients of a puny 2.3 million (Germany) and a laughable 8.3 million (United States).

Norway plucked 24 medals from merely 4.2 million people for a sterling MPC of 175,861, achieving athletic prowess even while clearly refusing to help overpopulate the Earth, a rare double.


Athens 2004 saw the brawny, hardy Australians lead much of the fortnight until a real frog-strangler of a finish. The Bahamas, with two medals and an MPC of 149,000, nudged Australia’s 49 medals and 406,000, and Cuba made a late bolt to third.

The United States placed 40th with an MPC of 2.8 million (not so bad for an also-ran), and China wound up 73rd with 20.6 million (cementing that 1.3 billion population as a certified hamstring).

Since that Olympiad, Serbia and Montenegro have separated, which is nothing less than ingenious MPC strategy. And the Olympic family in 2007 welcomed the Pacific island of Tuvalu, population 12,177. If any of the three Tuvaluan athletes in Beijing should snare a medal, well, let’s just say that would send a volcanic shudder rippling through the entire MPC Table.

Meantime, we’re underway in 2008, as Monday evening in Beijing brought a fresh “official” medal table, haphazardly done as ever, quite possibly the least telling statistical chart in sports.

The far more astute MPC Table looked as follows. Note the influence of the colossal women’s 10-meter air rifle and 10-meter air pistol, which brought bronze medals to Croatia and Georgia, respectively. Note the prowess of the entire Korean peninsula, with a special MPC shout-out to those dynastic South Korean female archers, possibly the coolest athletes extant.

1. Australia (5 medals) - 4,120,171
2. Croatia (1 medal) - 4,491,543
3. Georgia (1 medal) - 4,630,841
4. Czech Republic (2 medals) - 5,110,456
5. The Netherlands (3 medals) - 5,548,438
6. Cuba (2 medals) - 5,711,976
7. North Korea (4 medals) - 5,869,772
8. South Korea (8 medals) - 6,154,106
9. Italy (8 medals) - 7,268,165
10. Azerbaijan (1 medal) - 8,177,717

Side note: The laggard United States had 12 medals for 25,318,721, and the Lilliputian Chinese gamely had clawed for 14 medals but still looked stuck with 95,003,186.


-- Chuck Culpepper

Culpepper is a special contributor to The Times.