Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Canada bows to reality

kw: observations, statistics, sports

Late yesterday Chris Rudge, of the Canadian Olympic Committee, acknowledged that Canada's "Own the Podium" ambition had been unrealistic. While it is a bit of a surprise that the U.S. is the podium's current owner, it is no surprise that they are ahead of Canada. A little story illustrates why.

A young man of our acquaintance had high hopes upon entering college, of continuing his sports career. He was, in high school, the fastest half-miler and quarter-miler in Delaware. He joined the NCAA and contacted the coaching staff of his chosen college campus in New Jersey. They were lukewarm. He told me, "Just at that school, they have three guys faster than I am, in both events." The population of New Jersey is ten times that of Delaware.

The land area of U.S. and Canada is similar, and there are equal amounts of great winter sports areas. What Canada lacks is people. The population of the U.S. is nearly ten times that of Canada.

Then, you might say, Norway has more Olympic medals than Canada, but has only 1/7th the population. True, but Norway is nearly all world-class mountain terrain. I've been there in Winter, and you need to be an athlete just to get around. Also, the first ten days of Olympic competition have favored the Norwegian athletes. They have longer traditions of the alpine sports. In the next five days, I expect Norway to gain at most one or two more medals, while Canada could well catch up to them.

The real surprise to me is that Russia has so few medals: half the US's total. When Russia constituted half of the USSR, they dominated winter sports. My best guess is that it reflects the great numbers of great athletes that once came from SSR's that are now independent. New countries like Kazakhstan, Latvia and Estonia are winning medals (just a few, true) for themselves now.

The relative poverty of China has kept their pool of world-class athletes rather small, particularly for winter sports. Their Summer Olympic medal count closely matched that of the U.S. This will change as their prosperity increases. In future Olympic competitions, China is the country to watch. I reckon it will be a while before India is any force in the Olympics, for their sports traditions tend toward Cricket and other sports that are not seen there (yet).

Another side thought: I hope American football never becomes an Olympic sport. It just doesn't fit the venue. I still don't see how basketball fits in. Oh, well. I know I'm in the minority on both counts.

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