My Thoughts on Olympic Bids, Hosts, and Financing

And so Switzerland’s electorate has voted not to pursue the 2026 Winter Olympics for the city of Sion. This occurred shortly before the U.S. Open golf championship was held at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island, and a few weeks before The Open Championship of 2018 will be held at Carnoustie Golf Links in Angus, Scotland. And Wimbledon starts today, with those big Rolex watches at the ends of the main courts, which would never be allowed at the Olympics. What could these possibly have to do with each other? Read on, my friend, and we shall discuss.

For the past decade the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has watched in what must be anguish as city after city has spurned their chances to host an Olympic Games or Olympic Winter Games, almost certainly concerned at the cost of hosting for their city, while wondering what exactly are the benefits. Sion was only the latest. Boston, Massachusetts was chosen as a potential host city for 2024 only to reject the offer a few months later. Norway, almost the quintessential host of a Winter Olympics in 1994 with Lillehammer, also voted against bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics. And there were many more, in Germany, in Poland, ad seemingly nauseum.

What should be made of this and what should the IOC do to reverse this trend, with the future of the Olympic Games at risk if adequate cities cannot be found? I think there are a number of things that are possible and some of them relate to the US Open and The Open Championship and how those are conducted. Some of the other thoughts you will read in this post are ideas gleaned from many sources, some would say stolen, though I will give them credit.

The cost of hosting an Olympic Games has risen beyond reason in the last 30 years. Los Angeles hosted the 1984 Olympics for $545.9 million (US)[1] while the cost associated with the 2008 Beijing Olympics is often reported to have been $31 billion. The Opening Ceremony at Beijing is reported to have cost $310 million alone. Hosting an Olympics has become an arms race, with each city trying to outdo the previous host, and usually spending more and more money to do that. Almost all agree that the 2008 Opening Ceremony was the nonpareil Olympic ceremony, but basically it’s a party, and if you give me $310 million, I promise I will throw you one hell of a party, too.

Let us pause to remember a voice of reason in the cost of Olympic Games, yet one who is often forgotten, and during the run-up and the hosting of the 1984 Olympics was often vilified by the IOC and the European press because of frugal, often dogmatic ways. Peter Ueberroth was the chairman of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, a Games that ended with a $232.5 million surplus (you cannot call it a profit for US federally recognized non-profit organizations). How did he do it?

First of all, shortly after he was named chairman, Ueberroth went to the Helms Library in Los Angeles (now sited at the LA84 Foundation Library, one of the products of that $232.5 million surplus), and sat down and read all the previous Official Reports to see what previous Games cost, and what the primary source of those costs were. He came to the conclusion that the most important factor in Olympic Games expenses was the building of new stadia, and he vowed that he would host the 1984 Olympics without building new venues.

Ueberroth had an advantage in that Los Angeles has a lot of athletic facilities, but we’ll get to that later. He actually had to build 3 venues – a swim stadium, a velodrome, and a shooting range – but he got McDonald’s to fund the swim stadium and 7-Eleven to fund the velodrome[2], and the shooting range cost was only a rounding error.

What else did Ueberroth do that allowed Los Angeles to arrive at a surplus? In the book on the 1984 Olympics by Kenneth Reich, Making It Happen: Peter Ueberroth and the 1984 Olympics, it is described that when they were deciding on choices and costs, his mantra was, “It should be well done, but not ostentatious.” And it was never ostentatious. It was simple and somewhat austere compared to the Games that would come later, and the IOC thought it was downright cheap, but it worked.

So how can cities and the IOC use this information learned from Peter Ueberroth, a man Dick Pound has described to me as the most important member of the Olympic Movement who never became an IOC Member? Let’s look at The Open Championship and the US Open golf tournament.

The Open Championship (often called the British Open, which the Royal & Ancient hates) is not open to all clubs in the British Isles to host the tournament. It is held on a rota of courses that is predetermined, and currently consists of only 9 courses: St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Birkdale, Muirfield, Turnberry, Royal Lytham & St. Anne’s, Hoylake (Royal Liverpool), Royal St. George’s, and Royal Troon. Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland will host the 2019 Open but it has not hosted since 1951 and is not a part of the normal rota.

The advantage of this is the 9 host courses on the rota all have hosted the tournament before, usually fairly recently. They know how to do it, they have facilities at the ready, they have committees and committee members available who have previous knowledge of hosting an Open Championship.

Compare this to an Olympic Games in the 21st century. It is given to a city often with no previous experience hosting an Olympic Games, such as Rio de Janeiro, Athens (last hosted in 1906), and the like. They don’t know how to do it, they have never hosted, often they don’t always have the facilities and must violate Ueberroth Rule #1 by building stadia all over the place, and they don’t have the experience in committees and committee members.

So should the IOC go to a fixed number of cities to host the Olympic Games? I think they need to do something like this although it may not be cities. In fact, I think the IOC needs to distribute Games to countries because of the venue problems and begin to think of an organized rota of cities / nations to host Olympic Games.

Now in the 1970s and early 1980s when the IOC was broke, before Ueberroth made an Olympics profitable (excuse me, surplusable), and before Juan Antonio Samaranch and Dick Pound started the TOP Program, with the help of Patrick Nally and Michael Payne[3], it was always discussed that the IOC should hold all Olympic Games at one fixed site, with Olympia, Greece always quoted as the site of the Summer Games. Fortunately that talk is over now, as that will never work, certainly not in Olympia, as they have no facilities except those left over from the Ancient Olympics, they have no airport, the bus ride to Olympia takes about 6 hours from Athens, and, well, the Greeks are broke, some of which is still blamed on the 2004 Olympics.

But the IOC could go to a rota of cities and nations. Perhaps consider 3 sites in Europe, 2 sites in North America, 2 sites in Asia, and 2 open sites to rotate between South America, Africa, and Oceania, so that NOCs and IFs would know decades in advance where the Games would be held. It does not always have to be the same site in Europe or North America or Asia, although that would help if cities were to step up. I don’t really care how many cities / nations in the rota or where they are, but I do think the IOC should insist that only cities that already have Olympic facilities available should be allowed in the rota.

The advantages of this idea are that only cities which have the available facilities and don’t require major building projects to host an Olympics will be chosen – see Los Angeles. It also eliminates the now exorbitant cost of bidding for the Games, and often losing the bid. Like the courses that host Open Championships, the cities will also have the experience of hosting a Games, with facilities, infrastructure, and committees and committee members available. Look at Los Angeles, which called on the sporting structure that was formed in the aftermath of the 1984 Olympics, the LA84 Foundation, which was a big part of why their bid for 2024 / 2028 was so solid.

The IOC will not like the rota idea but I think it has to go to something like this. They always say they want to spread the Games to all nations of the world, but that is an idea from the 19th century when the Games had 9 sports, 12 nations, and about 250 competitors (1896 Athens). The Summer Games now have 34 sports, 206 nations, about 11,000 competitors, and even a larger contingent of media of all types. They are now so large that the IOC has to recognize that only a few cities in the world, and only a few nations in the world, can host a modern Olympic Games.

But you will say, “Look, the Games will only return to a city every 32-40 years or so. The personnel experience will be gone by then. That’s no advantage.” And I now give you the US Golf Association (USGA) and how they host US Open Championships for the second main part of my argument.

The US Golf Association does not do a formal rota for the US Open, as does the Royal & Ancient, although it returns to certain sites with some frequency, namely Oakmont, Pebble Beach, Shinnecock Hills, Pinehurst, and Winged Foot, among others. But it allows new clubs to host the Open, such as Erin Hills in 2017, and Chambers Bay in 2016 – both considered now marginal choices.

But what the USGA does is they do not give all the responsibility of organizing an Open to the host club and their organizing committee, as the IOC does. Shortly after the club is awarded a US Open (the time before hosting when it is awarded is variable in the case of the US Open), the USGA starts sending their own team to the club. They live there, they work there. They have worked at previous host clubs – they have the experience. And as the tournament gets close, the USGA presence on site increases, since they know how to run the tournament. They take over. Clubs do not always like this, but it’s a necessary evil to avoid the golfing equivalent of Rio de Janeiro.

The IOC does not do this to any degree. They let the host city form their own organizing committee (OCOG) and give them almost full responsibility. More recently, they have acknowledged that OCOGs need help. Until about 20 years ago, the OCOG had to start from scratch, but the IOC has at least started a clearing house of data from previous hosts called the Olympic Games Knowledge Services (OGKS), which can spread information to new OCOGs. It has also formed the Olympic Broadcasting Service (OBS), to assist and take production duties off the OCOGs. But the OCOG in a new host city usually has no experience, effectively, they have no clue. The OCOG reports to the IOC Coordination Commission periodically and tells them how things are going, and the Coordination Commission visits the city periodically to check on progress.

Slightly more than a year prior to Rio, the IOC Coordination Commission realized Rio needed significant help quickly and dispatched Gilbert Felli to Rio on a full-time basis to get things jump started. Fine, but that was too little, too late. The IOC should follow the lead of the USGA and send an IOC team to the host city shortly after it is awarded the Games – 7 years before they are to host the Games. They are the leaders of the Olympic Movement and they need to develop the personnel and the teams that rotate around to the various sites, and use them.

Remember that the US Open and The Open Championships are large sporting events, but nowhere near as large an Olympic Games, and with nowhere near the complexity. I can’t say how many people from the IOC should be living in the host city or for how long, but I do know that 1 person for 1 year is inadequate for the largest sporting event on the planet. Those IOC teams should comprise people in various categories, experts in things like media, finances, sporting facilities, security, international relations, and others.

There are other things cities can do to decrease the costs of Olympic Games. Michael Payne, former director of marketing at the IOC and then at Formula One, recently tweeted that cities should not be allowed to attach the Olympic title to any infrastructure project they elect to do in preparation for the Olympics (https://twitter.com/MichaelRPayne1/status/1006284904248827906). These are projects cities always want to get done – the ring road around Athens in 2004, the upgrade of Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta in 1996, enlarging the Sea-to-Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler in 2010, building a brand new ski resort near Sochi, and many other such projects.

But these are things the cities have usually wanted for themselves for some time, and when they see the Olympics, they find a way to glom these costs onto the Olympic budget. When that happens, Olympic costs can get astronomical. In fact, Dan Doctoroff, former advisor to New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, often said that the NYC and Boston Olympic bids could be used by governments to catalyze infrastructure deals that wouldn’t have otherwise happened.[4]

Not well known is that there are three facets of the costs of hosting an Olympic Games, best described by Holger Preuß in his excellent book The Economics of the Olympic Games: A Comparison of the Games 1972-2008, and have also been described more recently in the paper out of the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford study by Bent Flyvbjerg, Allison Stewart, and Alexander Budzier: The Oxford Olympics Study 2016: Cost and Cost Overrun at the Games[5]. The three are: 1) operational costs or the costs of running the Olympics for 2 weeks of the Games, and the costs of funding the organizing committee’s work before and after the Games; 2) direct costs, which is what Peter Ueberroth all but eliminated, which is building stadia and other facilities, such as media centers (Main Press Centre and International Broadcast Centre), and Olympic Villages; and 3) indirect costs, which are the city projects described in the previous paragraph and which escalated beyond belief in the case of Sochi 2014, which built a new ski resort at Krasnaya Polyana for the Mountain Cluster of events, and then built a highway connecting Krasnaya Polyana with Sochi (really Adler, where the Games were actually held).

We’ll start with 3) first, which I already mentioned. Cities have to stop using the Olympic Games for self-improvement projects and then blaming the IOC for the cost of those projects. The IOC does hold the trademark to the word Olympic and as Michael Payne said, they should not allow the word to be used connected to any infrastructure not needed specifically to host the Games.

Aha, you say, but what if this infrastructure is needed to host the Games? By going to a rota, and rarely using new cities, this should not be necessary, and any cities / nations that want to get on the rota should not be allowed if they do not have the necessary infrastructure (see Rio / Sochi).

As to 2), do what Peter Ueberroth said, “Don’t build new facilities.” If you don’t have them, don’t bid for the Olympics. If the city doesn’t have the requisite facilities, the IOC should not award the Games to the city or allow it on the rota. Further, the International Federations (IFs) have to share some of the blame here by demanding more and better facilities, and adding to the host cities arms race. As an example, track cycling is held in a velodrome which few cities outside of France or Japan will ever use outside of the Olympics. It will never pay for itself, but the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) mandates an indoor, fixed wooden track facility. A temporary artificial track can be used, as it was for Atlanta in 1996. The UCI will not like that, but we’re sorry.

If you do need some facilities, temporary is the key word. The US Olympic Swimming Trials has been held in Omaha, Nebraska for the last few Olympics, and Olympic journalist Alan Abrahamson has raved about their hosting ability. But there is no natatorium there – they use a temporary pool set up for the trials and the same could be done at the Olympic Games. FINA (Fédération Internationale de Natation Amateur) will not like it, and they do not like the events being held outdoors, as at Los Angeles in 1984 and Barcelona in 1992, but both things would greatly decrease the cost of building more stadia.

Temporary facilities can be placed inside already existing structures, such as convention centres, or such centres can be built for the city to use later. Those will make money, and cities love convention centres because they bring business, people, tourists, and money to them for many years. The media centres – Main Press Centre and International Broadcast Centre (IBC) – should be built with future use as a convention centre in mind, or in the case of the IBC, future use as a broadcast centre for the city. As to Olympic Villages, virtually all major cities can use more low-cost housing and these villages, if they need to be built, should be designed with that future need in mind.

Another example of an IF that forces OCOGs hand is the ISU (International Skating Union) which mandates that speed skating must be held on an indoor oval at the Winter Olympics. I love speed skating, but those never (or rarely) get used after the Olympics. Strangely the ISU does not require its World Championships to be held on indoor oval. The IOC needs to tell the IFs that they run the show at the Olympics and we will do what is cost conscious for cities. Currently the IFs tell the cities and the IOC what they are entitled to, but paraphrasing Col. Nathan R. Jessup, “[We] don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to.”

The cities must be allowed to use temporary facilities at every turn, if they do not have pre-existing stadia for each. Building a hockey (field) stadium is a nice idea perhaps in India or some cities in Europe, but at most cities it will become a white elephant. If the city does not have enough structures, either do not let that city in the rota, or allow them to use temporary structures, ideally structures that could even be rotated to the next city to host, similar to a traveling circus, that brings all its tents with it to each new city.

Further, OCOGs should do as Ueberroth did and get corporations to build facilities, if they need them, and here we look at Wimbledon. I think the IOC should loosen up their rules and allow more advertising at Olympic sites, which is now forbidden. Sorry, but Wimbledon is a very staid, proper event, which is what the IOC wants, yet I don’t think anyone is complaining about that Rolex clock that is seen every time the camera focuses for 34 seconds on Rafael Nadal hitting his first serve, and for which I assure you Rolex pays Wimbledon a significant sum each year. If you tell a corporation that they can have the Coca-Cola Olympic Natatorium or the Intel Olympic Velodrome, and that their name will show up on virtually every TV in every nation in the world for about 3 weeks, I think the money will appear very quickly to get that structure built.

Finally, on 1), if we have a rota of cities / nations, and the IOC assigns teams to each city / nation immediately after hosting, and the IOC runs the Games as a professional organization, and not allow an amateur OCOG to run them, this will certainly greatly decrease operational costs, because the IOC teams will know, and learn more during each Olympiad, where the money should be spent, and where it should not be. This facet of Olympic costs is relatively well-controlled and is not usually responsible for major cost overruns, but certainly a more experienced team in place from the beginning can limit these costs as well.

The Olympic naysayers will say that this all sounds too simplistic and that Olympic costs will always continue to spiral, as the Oxford study showed (noted above). They will also say that I am an Olympic apologist who is blind to the realties of modern Olympic economics.

Yes, I am a big believer in the Olympic Games and the Olympic Movement. I think it serves a real need by bringing the nations of the world together peacefully for 2-3 weeks every few years, and making the people of the world realize and understand that we are far more alike than we are different (see North and South Korea in PyeongChang). But I am far from an Olympic apologist.

The NOlympics Movement people know only one thing about the Olympics – they have cost too much in recent years. Most have never been to an Olympic Games, compared to my 14. Most have never read a book on the Olympics Games, such as Preuß’s book on Olympic Economics. My Olympic library comprises over 1,000 books, most of which I’ve read, and my CV notes that I have written 27 books on the Olympic Games, so the NOlympics people cannot begin to tell me they know more about the Olympics, or Olympic finance, than I do.

I believe the Olympic Games can be brought to fiscal responsibility but it will take some effort, changing some rules, and doing some things the IOC and the IFs will not like. In the past 30 years there have been fiscally responsible Olympic Games, in addition to Los Angeles 1984 – Atlanta 1996, Salt Lake 2002, and Sydney 2000, and Vancouver 2010 all finished either with a small profit or neutral revenues. So it can be done. And here is my summary of what I believe are the steps that should be done to make this happen on a regular basis:

  1. Set up a rota of Olympic sites that have the necessary facilities so that building venues and stadia are not a huge part of Olympic budgets, and what this mandates is that if you do not already have the facilities you can’t be on the rota.
  2. After the Games are awarded to the host city, have the IOC run the Organizing Committee on-site with their own team, rather than trusting OCOGs, who have no experience, to do it.
  3. Insist on infrastructure costs, or local capital projects, be taken out of Olympic accounting. If the city wants to build it, they can, but it should never be an Olympic cost. If we follow 1., hopefully these projects will not be needed to host the Olympics. If the IOC team is on-site running the OCOG, they should be able to see that this does not get added to their budget.
  4. The IOC needs to be in charge of how the events are held, and not the IFs, who always want the newest and best facilities, and contribute to the Olympic host city arms race that greatly increases budgets.
  5. Loosen up the IOC advertising rules by allowing corporations to advertise on site, which will immediately increase the possibility that such corporations will pay for the building of any facilities that are needed.
  6. Always use temporary stadia and facilities, if needed, and if they cannot be built and paid for by corporations, and always consider rotating these around to future Olympic sites.

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With thanx to David Fay, former executive director of the US Golf Association; Ben Fischer, writer at Sports Business Daily; Hilary Evans (@OlympicStatman); and Rich Perelman, former media director of the  Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee (LAOOC) and current publisher of The Sports Examiner. All four read pre-prints of this and made suggestions, many of which were included. All mistakes are mine.

Original version had an error that has been corrected and was spotted by Alan Abrahamson. It was Gilbert Felli, not Christophe Dubi, who spent a year in Rio on the IOC’s behalf.

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[1] All financial figures throughout will be in US dollars, not corrected for inflation. Similarly all financial figures for Olympic costs and profits/surpluses should be regarded as estimates. All such financial figures have been sourced from either Official Reports, Holger Preuß’s book on the economics of the Olympic Games (see later in article), or in the case of 1984 Los Angeles, direct information from Rich Perelman, who had a lead role in the LAOOC.

[2] Technically, McDonald’s and 7-Eleven were only sponsors, but all their sponsorships dollars were directed to the swim stadium and the velodrome, respectively, and they did receive naming rights (which could only be used after the Olympics). Information from Rich Perelman.

[3] Rich Perelman points out that even the TOP Program was strongly based on the LAOOC sponsorship program, designed by Ueberroth and Joel Rubinstein, who he notes does not get enough credit for his work on all this.

[4] Info kindly provided to me by Ben Fischer at Sports Business Daily – see https://www.google.com/search?q=Dan+Doctoroff+use+the+olympics&rlz=1C5CHFA_enUS703US703&oq=Dan+Doctoroff+use+the+olympics+&aqs=chrome..69i57.4375j0j9&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

[5] Can be found at this link – https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2804554.

The truth behind “Man Afraid of Soap”.

Lacrosse has been an infrequent guest at the Olympic Games. It was played at the 1904 and 1908 Olympics as a full medal sport then as a demonstration sport in 1928, 1932 and finally in 1948. Only three nations, Canada, the United States and Great Britain took part in the five editions of Olympic lacrosse.
With the possibility of the sport returning to the Olympic fold at Los Angeles 2028 it seems a good time to reflect upon the beginnings of the sport and its roots amongst the Native American communities of what is now the north east part of the United States and south east Canada.

The 1904 Olympic tournament was traditionally only competed between the Winnipeg Shamrocks and the hometown St. Louis Amateur Athletic Association but during my colleague Bill Mallon’s research into the St. Louis Games he discovered that a third team, from the Six Nations Reservation of Ontario, had competed and lost to the St. Louis team in what amounted to a semi-final.
The roster of the Six Nations team has been known for over 30 years but only in the form of the English translation of the tribal name of the players involved. Until today…

The traditional list of the team is as follows;
Almighty Voice, Black Eagle, Black Hawk, Flat Iron, Half Moon, Lightfoot, Man Afraid of the Soap, Night Hawk, Rain in Face, Red Jacket. Snake Eater, Spotted Tail.
Up until now it was impossible to link these names to those recorded in Canadian records but a finding by the Swedish athletics historian Tomas Magnusson has changed all that. We can now reveal that “Man Afraid of the Soap” was also known as Freeman Joseph Isaacs (1869-1937), the father of Lacrosse Hall of Fame inductee Bill Isaacs.

Furthermore, we have solid evidence that the rest of Canada knew those squad players through their registered English names as opposed to their Native American names.
Those names being
Joe Crawford. Philip Jackson, Eli Warner, Amos Obediah, Thomas Will. Berman L. Snow, L. Bumbary,J. B. Eaver ,Eli Martin, Sandy Turkey, Austin Bill, W. E. Martin, Jacob Jamieson, Eli Henry, Joe Clark, Frank Seneca. Charlie Johnon, Robert Lottridge
Hopefully we may continue to gather more information until all the roster is revealed.

Freeman Joseph Isaacs
https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/135901196/freeman-joseph-isaacs

The USA Performance at PyeongChang – An Analysis

Much ado has been made about the USA performance in PyeongChang, but is it much ado about nothing? Let’s look at the stats.

Here are the recent USA medal performances at the Winter Olympics.

Year G S B TM MedalOps %%%
1976 3 3 4 10 100 10.0%
1980 6 4 2 12 103 11.7%
1984 4 4 0 8 106 7.5%
1988 2 1 3 6 123 4.9%
1992 5 4 2 11 150 7.3%
1994 6 5 2 13 162 8.0%
1998 6 3 4 13 177 7.3%
2002 10 13 11 34 206 16.5%
2006 9 9 7 25 216 11.6%
2010 9 15 13 37 222 16.7%
2014 9 7 12 28 254 11.0%
2018 23 262 8.8%

The 23 # for 2018 is a guesstimate based on what they have won thru 19 February.

What is medal ops? Events do not uniformly allow a nation to win three medals. Most team events only allow a nation to enter 1 team (bobsled has 2). So medal ops is the total number of medals that a nation can win, and %%% is the percentage of the possible medals they could win. You can see the program inflation at the Winter Olympics, primarily due to the introduction of X-Games sports since 1988.

So what if we don’t count the X-Games events? How are we doing in the classic winter sports – those that were on the program prior to 1992, when the X-Games sports like freestyle skiing, snowboarding, skeleton, and short-track speed skating, came on the program.

Here are those #s.

Year G S B TM MedalOps %%%
1976 3 3 4 10 100 10.0%
1980 6 4 2 12 103 11.7%
1984 4 4 0 8 106 7.5%
1988 2 1 3 6 123 4.9%
1992 3 3 1 7 136 5.1%
1994 5 3 0 8 136 5.9%
1998 3 3 2 8 137 5.8%
2002 5 7 8 20 154 13.0%
2006 5 6 2 13 158 8.2%
2010 6 11 5 22 158 13.9%
2014 3 3 7 13 166 7.8%
2018 10 173 5.8%

Again, the 10 # for 2018 is a guesstimate.

Let’s look more closely. In 2002 and 2010 we won about 1/6th of the available medals. What do those two Olympics have in common? They were home fields for the USA. I know, you will demur and say, “Wait a minute, 2010 was in Canada,” but Vancouver sits on the US border and is probably easier to get to for US fans than Salt Lake, and travel for US athletes was no problem. It was a home field for us, for certain. It is well known that home nations always improve their performance in the medal table.

Further, after competing in a home nation Olympics, those nations typically do less well at the next few Olympics after that – see http://olympstats.com/2014/03/06/host-nation-bounce-effect/ in which I showed pretty effectively that after a nation hosts an Olympics, it tends to win about 75% as many medals at the next Olympics, then 60% at the Olympics after that, and 50% at the Olympics 12-years down the road.

So after the two “home” Olympics of 2002 and 2010, we could definitely expect to see a diminution of American medal expectations. But it was never presented as such.

Further, not only does the USA do better in home Olympics, the further we travel the less well we do, although the numbers there are not as strong. The last Asian Winter Olympics was in 1998 at Nagano. There we won 7.3% of available medals vs. a projected 8.8% in 2018. In the classic sports we won 5.8% of available medals in Nagano, and are projected to win … 5.8% of those medals in PyeongChang.

Another problem has been our performance in those X-Games sports – we’re not doing as well as once we did. Even that is not unusual. Think about other “modern” sports which had an American origin, or one in which Americans pioneered them. Triathlon – we were once dominant – think of the Scotts (Dave, Molina, Tinley) at the Ironman, winning every year. Now we rarely get on the podium. Mountain biking was once an American stronghold (remember Ned Overend), but by the time it got to Olympics in 1996, we were an afterthought.

The same is happening in the X-Games winter sports. In short-track speed skating (I know, its technically not in the X-Games, but same difference), once we had Cathy Turner winning golds, and Apolo Anton Ohno winning multiple medals, but now the Koreans are so dominant. We usually are happy with an occasional bronze.

In freestyle skiing and snowboarding, we’re still very good, but the Europeans have started to focus on these sports, and our dominance has been waning. With nationally subsidized sports programs, which is common in Europe, once sports get on the Olympic program those nations start focusing on them, and usually improve quickly.

What of the classic sports and our medal chances in 2018, look at them with a retrospectoscope, realistically.

  • Alpine Skiing – we had no male medal hopes. Bode is retired and Ted Ligety is returning from back surgery. On the women’s side, we have Lindsay and Mikaela but that’s it. Julia Mancuso just retired after many hip injuries, and there is nobody in the pipeline at the moment. Even with Lindsay Vonn, that is not the same body as in 2006-10, after 2 ACL recons and a humeral shaft fracture, with an ORIF and a radial nerve palsy.
  • Biathlon – we’ve never won a medal. Lowell Bailey did win a World Championship in 2017, but has struggled this year and I think medal expectations were unrealistic.
  • Bobsled – since 2002 we have started winning medals again, but the USA Team was devastated by the tragic early death of Steve Holcomb, our best driver. Without him, our medal chances greatly diminished.
  • Cross-Country Skiing – Bill Koch won a medal in 1976 in the 30 km. Boxing had the great white hopes of Jerry Quarry in 1970s and Gerry Cooney in the 1980s, and every Winter Olympics we hear of another great American white-snow hope, but like Quarry and Cooney, they never seem to materialize.
  • Figure Skating – our singles skaters have not been very good for almost a decade now. Our pairs skaters have never been at the top internationally. Ice dance has now become our best event. Adding the team event has helped us win a medal because of our depth, but we are not the world leaders in this sport.
  • Ice Hockey – the women are excellent, with only the Canadians to rival them. On the men’s side, without the NHL did anyone seriously think we could beat European teams that are playing skaters from the KHL, the world’s second best league? There is still a chance – maybe they can pull off an upset.
  • Luge – we’ve never won much and cannot touch the Germans. Chris Mazdzer won a medal, which is a reasonably good performance for the US in this sport.
  • Nordic Combined – we won 4 medals in the sport at Vancouver, but those are the only medals we have ever won. We were not expecting any in PyeongChang.
  • Ski Jumping – we have won 1 medal, a bronze in 1924 by Anders Haugen, a Norwegian émigré, who only received it in 1974 after a scoring error was revealed. A top 10 finish in this sport is rare for the US.
  • Speed Skating – paraphrasing Rick Pitino, “Eric Heiden (or Bonnie Blair or Dan Jansen) is not walking thru that door.” On the men’s side our only medal hope was Joey Mantia, and he still has his best event, the mass start. For the women, Brittany Bowe and Heather Bergsma were the best skaters in the world – in 2016. Bowe then had a concussion and recovered slowly and Bergsma has not been as good in the last 2 seasons. Media attention on our speed skating hopes may be overblown because our skaters often post world leading times, but that is usually at Salt Lake City, or Calgary, which are known as the 2 fastest ovals in the world.

Winter Olympic sports must be those held on snow or ice, per the Olympic Charter. There are 3 basic sports – skiing, skating, and sliding. In those the USA has been the dominant nation only rarely – figure skating from 1952-60, and Eric Heiden in speed skating in 1977-80. In Alpine skiing, the Austrians and Swiss dominate. In Nordic skiing, it’s the Norwegians. Speed skating belongs to the Dutch skaters, or the Koreans in short-track. And in the sliding sports (bobsled, luge, skeleton), the Germans are nonpareil.

So, we have had almost a perfect storm set up against the USA Winter Olympians at PyeongChang: 1) they were being compared to performances in 2002 and 2010 at home Olympics; 2) with the host nation bounce effect, fewer medals should have been expected; 3) with an Asian games, so far away from home, we do not always perform as well, and we have been similar to the last one at Nagano, Japan; 4) with Europeans focusing more on X-Games sports, our dominance there is waning; and 5) in the classic winter sports, we’ve had many injuries, a death, and retirements of our top athletes, and we have almost never been a dominant nation.

The @TeamUSA performance at PyeongChang has not been bad, despite reports to the contrary. We’ve had many, many 4th, 5th, and 6th place finishes, as pointed out by Rich Perelman in The Sports Examiner, and echoed by USA team spokesman Mark Jones. But the expectations of 30-35 medals should never have been made – they were unrealistic.

1000th Gold Medal

1000th Winter Olympic gold medal tonite per IOC spokesman Mark Adams. He said he wasn’t sure which event it would come in. Neither am I. Seems like a simple thing, doesn’t it? Just count the # of Winter Olympic events.

Let’s see what the counts are. Through 2014 there were 960 events in Winter Olympic sports. Notice I said Winter Olympic sports. In 1908, figure skating was held at the Summer Olympics (4 events) and in 1920 figure skating (3 events) and ice hockey (1 event) were contested. So if you could count those as non-Winter Olympic events, that gives 952 Olympic Winter Games (OWG) events.

But there have been various ties over the years, so of the 952 events, there have been 955 gold medals. But wait, prior to the investigation of Russian doping, there were actually 959 gold medals at the OWG, as 4 were removed, giving 955 – they had not yet been re-assigned. But wait, in January several of the Russian medals were restored, giving 957, or 965, if you count 1908 and 1920.

And if you really get funky with it, including 1908 and 1920, there have been 5,711 gold medals awarded.

So there you have it. The number of Winter gold medals before PyeongChang started was 952, or 955, or 957, or 959, or 960, or 961, or 963, or 965, … or 5,711. Makes you understand why Mark Adams said he didn’t know when the 1,000th gold medal would occur. Neither do I. Depends exactly on how you define your terms.

(With thanx to David Clark, who suggested we look at this landmark)

Shaun White – For the Record Book

By winning the snowboarding halfpipe tonite, Shaun White has  achieved the following:

  • 100th gold medal for @TeamUSA – his other two gold medals were #71 (2006) and #83 (2010)
  • 3rd oldest (31-164) SNB gold medalist (men and overall) – after Jasey-Jay Anderson (CAN) (34-321; 2010 / PGS) and Seth Wescott (33-232; 2010 / Boardercross)
  • 3rd oldest @TeamUSA Winter Olympic individual gold medalist (men and overall) – after Jim Shea (33-255; 2002 / Skeleton) and Wescott
  • First snowboarder (men and overall) to win 3 gold medals
  • =1st snowboarder to win 3 medals – with Kelly Clark (USA)
  • 2nd all-time USA men for most Winter Olympic gold medals (after Eric Heiden)
  • 3rd all-time @TeamUSA for most Winter Olympic gold medals (after Eric Heiden and Bonnie Blair)
  • =6th all-time USA men for most Winter Olympic medals
  • =12th all-time men for most Winter Olympic individual gold medals
  • 1st USA male to win gold medals at 3 Winter Olympics (tied with Bonnie Blair overall)
  • =1st USA male to win medals at 3 Winter Olympics (with Apolo Anton Ohno)
  • USA record for most years between gold medals (12) – now Ted Ligety with 8 (men and overall)
  • =4th all-time for most years between gold medals (men) (12)
  • 1st USA male to medal three times in same event at the Winter Olympics (tied with Bonnie Blair overall)
  • =1st (with 5 other men) among male Winter Olympians for gold medals in same individual event (3)

To the US, and International, Olympic Media

My Olympics in Korea have ended, as I sit in Seoul Incheon airport for my flight back to Atlanta. Some of you may have heard I had a problem in PyeongChang. Friday AM, while doing a CNN interview, I could not speak for part of the interview, and after going to hospital, was diagnosed with a small stroke. I have been at Gangneung Asan Medical Center until this morning.

I’m doing well, but I have only one problem remaining which is maddening for someone dealing with databases and spreadsheets. My fine motor skills with my right hand are still slow, making typing this difficult.

I’ve been asked if I can still help with stats during the Games. I want to, but please understand I want to spend a few days with my wife and dogs and trying to recover further. I will do what I can, when I can, but I may have to say no, occasionally. I have never done that and always tried to help you guys. Please understand.

My care in Korea, speaking from my day job as an orthopaedic surgeon, was superb. And God bless the USOC for organizing my care and getting me back home. I’ll be back.

Red Gerard – 21st Century Boy

I guess most of you reading this have memories of the 20th century but as we slip further into the current century we will eventually be replaced by those born after the millennium. On day 2 of the Pyeongchang Winter Games Redmond “Red” Gerard of the USA hastened this process by winning gold in the snowboard slopestyle for men and thus becoming the first Winter Olympic champion to have been born post 1999. Please note the careful choice of words there lest we get into the age-old argument of whether the current century began on January 1st, 2000 or January 1st, 2001. What is certain is that Gerard broke a host of age related records when he became Olympic champion.

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Red Gerard

He became;

The youngest Olympic champion in snowboarding.

The youngest US Olympic Winter Games champion since 1928.

The first male Olympic champion to have been born in the 21st century.

The 3rd youngest Olympic Winter Games champion of all time (behind Billy Fiske (USA-1928-Bobsleigh) and Toni Nieminen (FIN-1988-Ski Jumping))

The list of Olympic champions born in the 2000s is as follows

Name Sex NOC Sport Year DOB
Laurie Hernandez F USA GYM 2016 9 June 2000
Penny Olesniak F CAN GYM 2016 13 June 2000
Red Gerard M USA SNB 2018 29 June 2000
Ren Qian F CHN DIV 2016 20 February 2001

For the record the first Winter Olympians born post 1999 were male ski jumpers in Pyeongchang.
In start order of the normal hill event they were;

Start order Name NOC DOB
7th Kevin Maltsev EST 4 July 2000
18th Jonathan Learoyd FRA 3 November 2000
36th Timi Zajc SLO 26 April 2000

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Kevin Maltsev

And finally the youngest Olympic snowboard champions are as follows;

Name Sex NOC Event Year Age
Red Gerard M USA Slopestyle 2018 17y 227d
Kelly Clark F USA Halfpipe 2002 18y 199d
Hannah Teter F USA Halfpipe 2006 19y 17d
Shaun White M USA Halfpipe 2006 19y 162d
Karine Ruby M FRA Giant Slalom 1998 20y 36d

A comprehensive list of Olympic champions born in the 21st century will be available on this blog in around 150 years providing the technology of keeping brains alive in jars proves successful.

Kasai 8th Winter Olympics, Pechstein 7th

21st and 9th may not seem like much. But when Noriaki Kasai (JPN) and Claudia Pechstein (GER) finished in those places in the normal hill ski jumping and the 3K speed skating Saturday night, respectively, they made Olympic history.

For Kasai it was his 8th Olympic Winter Games, the first person to ever compete in 8. For Pechstein it was her 7th Winter Olympics, the first woman to reach that figure. For the record here are the current records for most appearances at a Winter Olympics.

### Name Gdr NOC Sport Era Consec
8 Noriaki Kasai M JPN SKJ 1992-2018 Yes
7 Albert Demchenko M EUN/RUS LUG 1992-2014 Yes
7 Andrus Veerpalu M EST CCS 1992-2018 No
7 Claudia Pechstein F GER SSK 1992-2018 No
7 Sergey Dolidovich M BLR CCS 1994-2018 No
7 Janne Ahonen M FIN SKJ 1994-2018 Yes
6 Carl-Erik Eriksson M SWE BOB 1964-1984 Yes
6 Colin Coates M AUS SSK 1968-1988 Yes
6 Marja-Liisa Kirvesniemi-Hämäläinen F FIN CCS 1976-1994 Yes
6 Alfred Eder M AUT BIA 1976-1994 Yes
6 Harri Kirvesniemi M FIN CCS 1980-1998 Yes
6 Jochen Behle M FRG/GER CCS 1980-1998 Yes
6 Raimo Helminen M FIN ICH 1984-2002 Yes
6 Markus Prock M AUT LUG 1984-2002 Yes
6 Emese Nemeth-Hunyady F AUT/HUN SSK 1984-2002 Yes
6 Mike Dixon M GBR BIA/ CCS 1984-2002 Yes
6 Hubertus von Fürstenberg-von Hohenlohe M MEX ASK 1984-2014 No
6 Wilfried Huber M ITA LUG 1988-2006 Yes
6 Gerda Weissensteiner F ITA BOB/LUG 1988-2006 Yes
6 Sergey Chepikov M EUN/RUS/URS BIA/ CCS 1988-2006 Yes
6 Georg Hackl M FRG/GER LUG 1988-2006 Yes
6 Anna Orlova F LAT LUG 1992-2010 Yes
6 Ilmārs Bricis M LAT BIA 1992-2010 Yes
6 Marco Büchel M LIE ASK 1992-2010 Yes
6 Teemu Selänne M FIN ICH 1992-2014 No
6 Gyu-Hyeok Lee M KOR SSK 1994-2014 Yes
6 Todd Lodwick M USA NCO 1994-2014 Yes
6 Mario Stecher M AUT NCO 1994-2014 Yes
6 Armin Zöggeler M ITA LUG 1994-2014 Yes
6 Ole Einar Bjørndalen M NOR BIA/ CCS 1994-2014 Yes
6 Eva Tofalvi F ROU BIA 1998-2018 Yes
6 Jasey-Jay Anderson M CAN SNB 1998-2018 Yes
6 Simon Ammann M SUI SKJ 1998-2018 Yes
6 Shiva Keshavan M IND LUG 1998-2018 Yes

The above includes all those entered for PyeongChang 2018 although they may not have competed yet.

By comparison the Summer Olympic record is 10 by Canadian equestrian Ian Millar. Two others have competed in 9 Olympics – Hubert Raudauschl (AUT-SAI / 1964-96) and Afanisijs Kuzmins (LAT/URS-SHO / 1976-2012). There have been 9 Summer Olympians compete in 8 Olympic Games.

Have any Olympic champions been succeeded by their twins?

We received a question about the Mulder twins in speed skating. Back in Sochi, Michel Mulder won the 500 m by the microscopic margin of 0.012 seconds. His twin brother, Ronald, finished third on that occasion. While Michel failed to qualify for PyeongChang, Ronald will be racing there, and is one of the contenders for a medal, and possibly even the gold medal. If he does, would he be the first Olympian to succeed his twin brother or sister?

The answer depends a bit on which cases you consider. There’s been several cases of twins winning gold medals together, and some of these have done this back-to-back. For example, Slovakians Peter and Pavol Hochschorner have won the canoeing slalom event C2 in both 2000, 2004 and 2008, so you could say they succeeded their twin, twice even. There have been several of these cases over time:

Twins Country Years Event Sport
Jörg & Berndt Landvoigt East Germany 1976-1980 Men's Coxless Pairs Rowing
Peter & Pavol Hochschorner Slovakia 2000-2008 Men's C2 Slalom Canoeing
Caroline & Georgina Evers-Swindell New Zealand 2004-2008 Women's Double Sculls Rowing
Kristine & Katrine Lunde Norway 2008-2012 Women Handball

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The Slovakian Hochschorner twins, winning the second of their three consecutive golds.

There have been two cases where twins won consecutive gold medals, but without both being on both gold medal teams, like above. This happened twice:

Twins Country Years Event Sport
Yevgeny & Boris Mayorov USSR 1964-1968 Men Ice Hockey
Manja & Kerstin Kowalski Germany 2000-2004 Women's Quadruple Sculls Rowing

However, twins succeeding each other as Olympic champions in an individual event would be a first. For completeness, this has happened a few time with non-twin siblings:

Twins Country Years Event Sport
Hayes & David Jenkins USA 1956-1960 Men's Singles Figure Skating
Robert & Christoph Harting Germany 2012-2016 Men's Discus Throw Athletics
Christine & Marielle Goitschel France 1964-1968 Women's Slalom Alpine Skiing

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French sisters Goitschel share a laugh with French prime minister, Georges Pompidou.

Coldest Ever Winter Olympics? Maybe.

Some people have been calling PyeongChang the coldest ever Olympic Winter Games. Is it the city with the coldest February temperature to host a Winter Olympics?

Maybe. It really depends on whether you look at the daily mean (average) temperature, the daily mean low temperature, or the absolute (all-time) low temperature for February.

If you look at the absolute low-temperature for February, Calgary, Alberta, Canada wins hands down with a record low of -45° C. (-49° F.). And if you look at the daily average temperature, then Lillehammer, Norway and Lake Placid, New York, USA, are the coldest Winter Olympic cities, with mean temps of -9° C. (16° F.) and -8° C. (18° F.), respectively.

However, if you look at the daily mean low, PyeongChang is basically the same as Lillehammer and Calgary. All cities daily mean low temperature is -11° C.

We’ve never sat down and analyzed the daily announced temperatures during the Winter Olympics. The data was not listed in results until about the 1976 Innsbruck Olympics. While weatherbug.com, or other weather sites, likely has the data, it’s not something we have done and not aware of anyone else ever having done it.

Attached is a spreadsheet, Winter City Stats, with statistics about the Winter Olympic host cities, with population data, weather data, and geographic data.

All the Olympic Stats You'll Ever Need