Medal count? Define ‘count’

Special to The Times

BEIJING -- The beauty of the Olympic medal count is also known as the fine art of manipulation.

You have to like a system where there can be multiple winners. It seems clear that China will be able to claim victory Sunday, and IOC President Jacques Rogge even said it seemed to be inevitable when he was interviewed this week by news agencies.

But the United States could very well claim its own triumph.

How is this possible?


With three days of competition remaining, China has 46 gold medals to 30 for the United States. And, in many quarters, gold medals are, well, the gold standard in measuring Olympic success.

But the U.S. has 99 medals overall, compared with China’s 83.

Medal tables in most American publications go with the combined total. But the No. 3 country would differ in the two lists. Britain is third behind China and the U.S. in gold medals with 17, but Russia is third behind the U.S. and China in overall medals with 52.

Internationally, the mind-set seems to skew toward the gold-medal leader.

“Gold is better, not the total,” said Toshiyuki Kon, a photographer for the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun. “One gold and 10 silvers is bigger than no gold and 20 silvers.”

Jan Bengtsson, a reporter for Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, noted that because Sweden “is suffering its worst Olympics since 1896" -- four silver medals and a bronze -- it’d be easy to say the overall number of medals is more important. But he couldn’t.

“The Olympics is not about being second, being third. It’s about being first,” he said. “The gold medalist will be covered and praised for the rest of his life, but who remembers who won the bronze?”

In China, the gold medal is always the most important, said Cao Jianjie, an editor for New China News Agency. But he doesn’t necessarily agree.

“I care about the moments that move me,” he said.



Dillman is a staff writer for The Times, Chen for the Chicago Tribune.