Olympics Buzz: Total gold or total medals? There’s more than one way to rate success

Red Gerard of the United States celebrates with his gold medal as silver medalist Max Parrot of Canada, left, and bronze winner Mark McMorris during the medal ceremony.
(Morry Gash / Associated Press)

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The United States picked up two medals on Sunday, one gold and one silver. So, in the world of Olympic medal standings, is that one medal or two? That depends.

Most organizations and record-keepers use the gold standard when deciding how to rank the countries. But in the United States, a lot of organizations such as The Times, USA Today and the Associated Press (which also offers the gold standings) list the rankings based on total medals.

The reason is simple. In a sporting event brimming with jingoism, the United States always looks better in total medals, and that goes directly to the size of its delegation. In fact, when the U.S. Olympic Committee sets its secret goal for medals, it’s usually total medals. It may have a gold goal too, but it’s the total it talks about.


In the Summer Games, it doesn’t seem to matter a whole lot. The U.S. crushed both the gold and total counts in Rio and London. But in 2008 in Beijing, The U.S. was second in gold but first in total medals.

The Winter Games, where the reindeer countries do exceptionally well at sports the U.S. struggles in, such as cross country and biathlon, it’s a different story.

In the last Winter Olympics in Sochi, the U.S. was fourth in gold but second in total medals. In 2010 in Vancouver, it was second in gold and first in total. Turin, Italy, hosted the 2006 Games, where the U.S. was second and second and if you go back to Salt Lake City in 2002, the U.S. was third in gold and second in total.

There is a national obsession over the medals table, which is as much a staple of the Games as the raising of the flag. It’s OK; everyone wants to think their country is the best.


Nobel Peace Prize?

The early feel-good story of the Games has been the combined women’s hockey team of North and South Korea. When they play, the score will never matter, it’s the fact they are a team after practicing together for less than a month.

But did Angela Ruggiero, a member of the International Olympic Committee, get caught up in the moment when she said: “I would love the team to get the Nobel Peace Prize”?

No doubt, sports and natural disasters are the two greatest unifiers of people. In this case, will it last into the month of March?

Rewriting history

NBC had to issue an apology for remarks by Joshua Cooper Ramo, who said during the Opening Ceremony that Japan was important to the transformation of South Korea. Whoops. Japan actually occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945, and educating the masses wasn’t its mission. Olympic officials were said to have accepted the apology.

Biathlon world rocked

What would have happened if neither Gary Oldman playing Churchill nor Daniel Day-Lewis playing some fictional fashion guy, had been nominated for an Oscar? Consider that possibility when neither Martin Fourcade of France nor Johannes Thingnes Boe of Norway hit the medal stand in the biathlon men’s 10-kilometer sprint. They were No. 1 and 2 for most of the season, dominating competition. Arnd Peiffer of Germany was the beneficiary and gold medalist. Lowell Bailey at 33rd was the highest U.S. competitor in the 87-man field. In Saturday’s women’s 7.5-kilometer sprint, the high U.S. finisher was actually Emily Dreissigacker, 51st in a field of 87 women.


NBCSN afternoon time filler

In the cross-country men’s 30-kilometer skiathlon, Simen Hegstad Krueger won the gold in an all-Norway medal stand. Scott Patterson, who finished 36th in his only skiathlon of the last World Cup circuit, really improved to 18th to be the highest U.S. finisher.

Couldn’t if you tried

Long-track speedskater Sven Kramer of the Netherlands won the men’s 5,000-meters for the third straight time. But what was amazing is his fraction of a second was identical to Sochi four years ago. On Sunday, he set an Olympic record of 6:09.76, which was exactly one second better than the 6:10.76 he did in Sochi. Got that — 0.76 and 0.76. It’s like when you throw the dog toy in a spot that seemed impossible and then you couldn’t duplicate it in 500 tries. Yeah, that difficult. Emery Lehman was the highest American finishing 21st of 22.

Nothing to see here

Perrine Laffont of France won the gold in the women’s moguls. Four of her opponents were from the British commonwealth (two from Canada and two from Australia) and one from Kazakhstan. No one from the U.S. made the final.

Quote of the day

NBC’s Leigh Diffey, no doubt calling on his childhood memories of luge in Australia, was in hyperdrive when Chris Mazdzer won the silver medal for the U.S. “The luge world will be speechless,” Diffey bellowed. Mazdzer covered the sledding sports in Sochi too.


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