Can any country match that? No, actually -

Can any country match that? No, actually


To me, the most startling measure of Canada’s Olympic performance, eclipsing even the 14 gold (the most ever for any country) or the 26 medals (the most ever for Canada), was this: We placed in the top five in 37 of 86 events contested. Nearly half. In my Olympics wrap, I asked, quasi-rhetorically, “Can any country match that?”

This caused some snickers in the comments. The US won 37 medals, it was pointed out. So obviously they more than matched our top-5 record.

Well, no. If the question was, which country had the most top 5 finishes, the US would seem to have us beat: the 37 medallists, plus however many fourth- and fifth-place finishes they turned in. But the statement was not about how many top 5 finishes we had, but the number of events in which which we finished top 5, a measure of the breadth of our success.

I’ve now checked the results, and I can report that indeed, no country matched us in this regard. We placed top 5 in 37 events. The Americans were top 5 in 34. The Germans were top 5 in 33. No one else, I’m going to guess, eyeballing the results, was even close.

The seeming paradox is resolved by the fact that the Americans had more than one top 5 finisher in several events. But their success was concentrated in a narrower range of events than ours.

But wait, it gets better. Go back to that initial question: which country had the most top 5 finishes? The US, right? Well yes, but also Canada — the two countries were tied at the top, with 49 top 5 finishes each. (Germany had 46.) The US had more medallists than we did (37 to 26) but fewer 4ths and 5ths (12, to our 23).

So not only did we beat the world to the very top of the podium, we also were on or around more podiums, more times, than anyone else.

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Can any country match that? No, actually

  1. It was bad enough that whatever number you originally counted was supposed to tell us something about our country.

    Now we're parsing the semantics of one of your previous sentences so you can luckily smirk about how your definitional count holds, and therefore, somehow, Canada rocks.

    Sigh. I recently got off work tonight, Andrew. What's your excuse for how you just spent your Saturday evening?

    Can we get back onto more comfortable ground, like maybe start a rotisserie league betting pool on which Conservative Party MPs might actually say or do something conservative?

    • Thanks, MYL. I was feeling uncomfortable about how much we're going on about this. Great, our athletes did really well. Great, it was a lot of fun to cheer them on on home soil. But my God, if I were the guest, I wouldn't want to come back.

      I suppose we need this, and we need it to sink in so that we get over our inferiority complex. I just hope we hurry up because I don't really care for all the crowing. Is it not possible to be confident and polite at the same time?

      • I can only speak for myself, and not all Canadians, but I don't have this much-talked-about inferriority complex (at least, not based on my nationality). Most of the Canadians I know don't have it either.

        • Hmmm, perhaps it is only the media who has this inferiority complex? I can't actually think of an example from myself that would illustrate it, at the moment, either. But that just might be because I'm not thinking of it.

          But as far as the media is concerned–what other country would obsessively check out all other countries' coverage of our Olympics? I bet Italy neither knew or cared.

    • Jeez, must have been a tough day at the office. Lighten up!

      • He just found out 7-11 is american owned. Either that or the Slurpee machine malfunctioned.

        • Actually, it's Japanese-owned…the Slurpee machine likely suffers from unintended acceleration.

          • Some hockey player must have head butted it.

        • Just let me catch your proper height by the markings at the doorway, buster, so I can tell the cops how tall the shoplifter who snuck off with the dirty mags was…

          • I think you're confusing me with the guy that ran off with your murse.

      • I loved the article, is about time that we get to OTP, we have amazing athletes, and is great to finally give them the support they deserve. I hope next Olympics we OTP again!

      • Your free market credentials are looking a little tattered. Why not taxpayer dollars per medal? Now that's a research project. But don't forget Andrew, there are a lot of us who don't give a damn about these stupid medals.

      • Yeah, it kinda was a tough day, and yeah, I probably should lighten up. So I apologetically retract paragraph number three. But only paragraph number three. The whole notion that Canada is cool because of how we did in Vancouver 2010 implies that we needed Vancouver 2010 in order to be cool. I reject the entire premise.

  2. I am glad somebody got the numbers on this, and had been wondering myself. Obviously our field is very deep. Well done Andrew.

    While I think a weighted medal count is the best indicator of overall performance, I think a weighted count of the top five places should be second. Overall medals third, most golds fourth.

    • How would you weight it?

      • You working for Google now?

      • It's a difficult question so I avoided it. I think that gold medals have to be weighted slightly above what you would consider a normal progression, and 4th and 5th should be a lot below bronze.

        • Yes, like 1 and 2 below, respectively.

    • Why 5? Why not 6, 8, 4 or 3? Or 10? Why not weight all places?

      • Weighting all places favours countires who just put in big teams, and weighting three is actually my top choice.

        I like five because it gives some consideration to people who were really really close, but not a huge field of also rans. The idea of ten kinda has its appeal, but assigning points in a ten-place system is really hard (you can't go 1st = 10, 10th = 1, because a gold place finish is much much better than 10 times a 10th place finish, and it devalues the gold).

    • And why not medals on home soil worth double?

    • Better wait and include the para olympics in all these calculations or you are all in trouble.

  3. As far as the athletics, for me the only number that counts is golds won. Gold equals a win, anything else equals a loss.
    And happily, by that measure we did extremely well.

    "Top 5" means "we're looking for the lowest integer standing which gives us a really high count". That's exquisitely lame.

    Anyway, what really mattered was the evolution of Canada's attitude from last Olympics to this one. Medals are nice but in the end it's just sports. Patriotic fervour, on the other hand, is priceless.

    • Seriously, Gaunilon, how has Canada's attitude changed from last Olympics to this one?

      Yes, we had more to cheer about this time, and yes we were louder because there was a lot more of us (being at home and all), and yes we had more media coverage in our own-ish time zones so more Canadians were able to watch more events. But you make it sound like we weren't proud of our athletes in prior Olympics, or that we ignored the games.

      • I don't think we had the same play-to-win attitude in recent years – more like a "we're just happy to be here" attitude.
        Also I don't think we had the same willingness to show off our country in prior years, which I take to be a sign of pride and affection for our country.

        Both good things, and both have been missing for decades, buried under an avalanche of pc mediocrity.

  4. AC, got any gender split for Canada for both number of events and total top five?

    • Btw, on total medals, Canadian final by my count was 11.5 male (44%) 14.5 female (56%).

      • The women bested the men in silver and bronze medals, while the men did far better in the gold medal count. The women won six of Canada's seven silver medals (86% of the total) and took three of the five bronze medals (60%). Of the gold, 8.5 medals (65%) went to men and 5.5 (35%) went to women.

        • It makes the earlier talk about how much better Canada's female athletes were than the male ones go out the window – and yet, while all the media was talking about "Women's Wednesday" with it's four medals, nobody saw fit to highlight our men winning 8 medals, including 6 golds, in the last weekend of the games (plus there was the women's curling silver that same weekend). In the end, the men's and womens' teams performed about evenly

  5. Canada had 42 top five finishes out of 84 events at the 2006 Olympics in Turin — an even better result than this year's games in Vancouver. No other country did as well either in 2006 or 2010. In the end, however, the gold standard is what really counts. That's now been set by Canada, too, and the rest of the world has a new record to beat! Vive le Canada!

    • Not sure how you got that result: I make it 35 events, from Wikipedia, with a total of 47 finishes. Still, nearly as good.

      • Source (re: 42 top five finishes in Turin) is Jeff Beer and Paul Jay @ published by Canwest. Here's the web link:… Source does not clarify whether it's 42 top-fives out of all 84 events. Canadian Olympic Committee would be best placed to confirm (their web site doesn't say — suspect a phone call to HQ would clear it up).

  6. Government intervention works. I take this is AC's message.

    • Had he only produced this analysis a few days earlier, I'm sure it would have found its way into Harper's response to the throne speech, to be immortalized for all time:

      "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender," Sir Winston Churchill, House of Commons of the British Parliament, 4 June 1940.

      "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth." JFK before a joint session of Congress, May 25, 1961.

      "If you were to go down to Home Depot and, using the tax stimulus renovation tax credit, pick up some 2x4s, scrap wood, add two wings to the Olympic platform, Canada's new government has demonstarted to the world: "Third place is no longer the standard we set for excellence. Top five, Baby!" Or as Canada's first and Conservative Prime Minister John A. MacDonald often stated: "A fifth. A fifth. My dominion for a fifth." Stephen Harper, responding to himself, House of Commons of the Canadian Parliament, March 11, 2010.

  7. We won Gold in Hockey and Curling. In ice dance and speed skating. In moguls and short-track.

    To me, that's all the breadth I need and want. For roughly $2 – $3 per Canadian per year, that's money well spent.

    Now, if only we could do something in the Summer Olympics, especially in the pool.

  8. I'm sure Norwegians are insisting that it is the number of medals per capita that is the true measure of success.

    And why not? From the gratuitous use of "we" when recounting the Games — Enough, I think, to make Yevgeny Zamyatin do triple axels in his grave — it is clear that we believe the Olympics is a collective effort.

    Ah, the Olympics. The time when we get to witness the most inspiring acts of athleticism, acrobatics and artistry in the field of statistics-crunching, in order to prove that [Insert own country here] is, as we had always suspected, the world's greatest.

    Talk about owning the odium.

    Isn't it refreshing when the Olympics winds down? When we all sit back down in our sofas to begin training for the next Olympics? And when the most egregious misuse of the term "we won" is reserved for the days after elections?

    • LOL. Well put! And quite right: the Norwegians, per capita, thump the world. Imagine they're planning a major assault in 2014 to rest the gold standard from Canada, whilst kicking some Ruskie butt. I wish 'em luck!

    • Maybe we could try medals (or the meme du jour, top five finishes) per athletes sent. If that solitary skier from Ghana ever medals, wow, the team is at 100%.

      Maybe we could try medals (top 5) per GDP per capita. Or medals (top 5) per national land surface area. Or per average snowfall…

      Or maybe we can congratulate all the athletes, shut off the damn TV and go out for a walk ourselves. I'd be far prouder of this country if more of its citizens would care about their own physical fitness.

      • I find your sentiment infinitely more applause-worthy than the fact that the world's fastest skeletoner has the same logo on his passport as I have on mine.

  9. Hopefully this performance will teach people that we will get our best results by focussing investment in talented people. If only this attitude informed the approach of our governments on labour and education….

  10. Really Wherry, I'm happier about doubling Canada's record for number of golds and beating out our Turin performance. If we can stay around the 25-medal range and get gold in the double digits in future Olympics, I think that's a fine area to level off at.

    • I hope you're not planning to enter the biathlon. You were aiming at Coyne and hit Wherry.

      • I suspect Coyne would be cool with Katherine in the biathlon…

  11. I agree with Loraine L. above. Great comment. I see where you are going.
    I agree that our athletes will lose their individualism and become dependent on welfare and lose their initiative under this Harper hand out program.
    Keep out Olympic program under free enterprise, keep individual initiative and survival of the fittest alive in Canada. If we have a socialist, subsidized Olympic program based on hand outs of our hard earned tax dollars to an elite few, what does it say about our country? At least the American medals were honestly earned under free market competitive conditions.
    I'm afraid our athletes will soon become dependent on hand outs and end up loafing around watching TV and drinking beer and never really get back out there in the real world. This welfare state philosophy for athletes could backfire and we'll be far from the podium once again. Is this a good long term strategy?

  12. We're Number 5! We're Number 5!
    More deification of losers from our national media, I see. This attitude is why mediocrity remains something to be strived for in Canada – we certainly have enough apologists who will pat us on the back for failing to reach our goals.
    The gold medallists are the only winners of any Olympic event. The rest of the field also ran – admirably, perhaps, but not in a winning way. Let's call winning what it is, without adding a bunch of qualifiers to soothe sore feelings. Just maybe we'll motivate more people to win that way.

    • So Erik Guay, Devon Kershaw & Pierre Leuders are losers?

  13. (Part 1 of 2)
    When someone says that their opinion is "humble," it almost certainly is anything but.

    That said, in my humble opinion, we ought to take a step back for a second and be proud of ourselves for once. We ought to stop being humble Canadians and take a second to soak in the Glory of Ourselves. Andrew's statistical insight is only meant to guide us in the right direction, which is this:

    Canda hosted an amazing Olympics. We also became champions at home in the most epic hockey game I have ever seen. Keeping in mind the whole history of men and women beating the USA in 2002 at hockey and again on the night of a full moon and closing ceremonies in such a GLORIOUS and EMBLEMATIC defeat of our friendly rivals to the south. The way in which the Crosby script unfolded, of course, was almost surreal. I do not get how this point needs reiteration.

  14. (Part 2 of 2)
    I find it lamentable at best (and shameful at worst) that we, as Canadians, even have to debate whether we should be proud of our accomplishments.

    For those of you out polishing your pollysyllables (reference to Justin Wordswrth who is undoubtedly gifted with language but sadly lacks certain key ingredients) who missed Crosby's goal I recommend you download the DVD and grow some national pride.

    You might just need it some day.

    Cheers to Sidney Crosby for scoring that goal and cheers to Andrew Coyne for reminding us all to be proud of our country and fellow countrymen and countrywomen. Next round of beers is on the house!

    • Mr. McDonald,

      Unfortunately, I will have to pass on the opportunity to "soak in the Glory of Ourselves" (the last one resulted in a rather embarrassing call to my physician). As for my "pollysyllables"[sic], I must admit I am not content until I can see my face in them; and after a few Olympic weeks of shouting only short singles — like he, shoots, scores, we, won, god, keep, our, land — the sidelined teamed-syllables were beginning to get a bit out of shape.

      Alas, I was unable to miss Mr. Crosby's goal despite the fact that I was enjoying the pleasantly vacant streets at the time it was scored. It seems the television broadcasters all had their replay buttons stuck for several days after.

      Thank you for the roll you played in our accomplishment. I hope Mr. Crosby calls you personally to thank you for your contribution. We couldn't have done it without you.

      • I am not quite sure how to parse, unpack and qualify your use of, "we." Doubtful that you speak in anything above "twisted tongue" given the nested layers of sarcasm and reverse-sarcasm you bury your premises behind. Hence, "we" is likely a blunted pun at best. Needless to say, your intelligence is frighteningly high (presumably) and so my dissatisfaction with pessimism in general and the glass-half-empty community in specific, delves deeply into the group psychology of negativity, of which you seem to be familiar with. You inadvertently nominated yourself you as the appointed representative for the, "I hate things" lobby when you posted your opinion and now we are left deciding how best to reconcile your point of view (which is sadly and surprisingly more common than I thought) with the more healthy social policy of providing inspiration and support for our fellow countrywomen and countrymen. I am open to all suggestions. The door to my office is always open. What do you suggest we do come to consensus on the value of Canada as a unifying, ongoing, imperfect, experimental concept that also happens to the land we call home? Furthermore, agreeing to disagree is a boring stalemate, in the battleground of words. Let's strive for greater shall we?

        • We shall.

          I will begin by stating that I second your opinion that agreeing to disagree is a "boring stalemate". On this we can agree to agree.

          You seem to imply that I hate things for the sake of hating things, that I start from the premise that I must hate whatever anyone else likes in order to spoil his parade. Now, it is true I hate things. I even enjoy hating things. You might even say I love it. But I am not head-over-heels in hate, I do not hate blindly, I do not hate for the sake of being in hate — I hate with reason.

          Of all that I hate, what I hate most is irrationality.

          The reason I have so much contempt for the reaction to the Olympic Games (I stress reaction because I am indifferent to the Games in and of themselves) is because I think it is irrational.

          I shall condense my indictment to two points.

          1. The Significance Attached to the Insignificant. Sports are trivial. The act of a group of men hitting a rubber disk with wooden sticks (or a woman skiing, or snowboarding, or luging down a mountain) is of no importance in this world. The fact that watching athletes perform — which amounts to little more than watching people exercise — can enthrall a nation so emotionally, does not speak well for the citizens of that nation. My suggestion for a more worthwhile Olympics would be to gather representatives together from each nation, each bearing books of national statistics on freedom, nutrition, literacy, standard of living, etc., etc., and use these to determine who the real "winners" are.

          2. The Confusing of I and We. The medals won by Canadian athletes were not won by "us", they were won by them. This "we" mentality is the result of a primitive, tribal psychology, one of us versus not-us, one that owns a heavy share of humanity's brutal conflicts (for a superb piece on international sporting contests as symptom / progenitor of sectarian violence, read the article that the great Christopher Hitchens wrote about the Olympics for Newsweek entitled, Fool's Gold)

  15. LOL ahhh, frightened little Macleans.


  16. Responding to Scott's two-parter:

    You can be happy Canada did well. I am. The Games were entertaining. Vancouver pulled it off. The bill will certainly be another matter, but the event itself was well done. And our athletes did us proud.

    But this national exercise in voyeuristically leering over at the next urinal to see whether our package measures up favourably is getting a little unseemly.

    The sports section of this evening's TV news gave a snippet from the Paralympics. You know what impresses me more than choosing a cutoff of top-3 or top-5 or top whatever might console us for our (bizarre collective pronoun there, but whatever) having fewer medals than them? Cross-Country-Skiing. Sitting. Ten freaking kilometres. Arms only. Wow…

  17. I hate to be a sourpuss (because I loved the Olympics and an very proud of Canada) but 14 gold medals in 2010 is nothing compared to 12 in 1976. There are more than twice as many events now. In 1976, there were:

    – no freestyle skiing of any kind (no moguls, aerials, ski cross)
    – no snowboard events
    – no curling
    – no short track speedskating
    – no skeleton
    – no womens bobsled or hockey

    • The USSR won 13 gold medals at the 1976 games in Innsbruck, which featured 37 events, as reported on the IOC web site. That makes 35% of all gold medals available in 1976 compared to the 17% Canada took this year. In relative terms, the USSR had the best gold medal performance by a single country in the history of the winter games, as you indicate. Remember, though, that the USSR no longer exists, and its 15 former "republics" competed at this year's games as separate nations. In any future Olympic meet, the new gold-medal record to be beat has been set by Canada. At the 2014 winter games in Russia, as it happens, the host country (or any other nation) will still have to beat Canada's standing in order to claim a new all-time high worldwide.

      • Oops! Make that: "… compared to the 16% Canada took this year." Should have rounded off to 16% instead of 17%. (More precisely, Canada took 16.279% of all gold medals available at this year's games).

  18. And this bolsters Andrew Coyne's manhood how?

    The atheletes did well for themselves (and their parents and families and trainers and coaches) and they were certainly proud to wear the Maple Leaf. And we were proud to cheer them on but for the love of God, please stop this conflation of a strong perfomance in this Olympics and some sort of Tim Horton's/Conservative government feelgoodism.

    If the broad-based high achievment level can mean that at a community level more kids are given an opportunity to paricipate in sport and that we become a more physically fit and healthier society then great. If it is just to feed our collective ego then maybe it's an area to cut in future Conservative budgets (nah, that bunch of relfected-glory junkies would never do it).

  19. It might be interesting to note the British sports authority, whatever they call themselves, have announced they will be copying Canada's 'Own the Podium' program for the 2012 Olympics. They will be copying a program vilified by the British press. Why? Because they want, as the host country, to fair better than they have ever at a Summer Olympic games. Gee, does that sound familiar?