“For the loser now, Will be later to win”. I guess when Bob Dylan wrote those words 50 years ago he never for a minute thought they’d be applied to the thorny question of which country is the best at finishing last at the Winter Olympics. The answer is not particularly gratifying if you happen to come from Great Britain. The British might have had an empire on which the sun never set but the conquest of India and large parts of Africa is not ideal preparation for various forms of sliding down a mountain or skating across frozen ponds.
So how did we calculate the table below? Very simply the last place finisher in every Winter Olympic event from 1924 to 2010 is awarded a gold medal, second to last won silver and, of course, third last gets bronze. For ease of calculation we have ignored anybody not included in the final classification so if really wanted to avoid “winning a medal” all you had to do was fall, give up or get disqualified.
The results show Great Britain with quite a lead on this “reverse medal table” which I suppose is legacy of being ever present at the Winter Games without ever being a major player at the Games. Indeed it was a Briton, Cyril Horn, who in this upside down view of Olympic history became the 1st Olympic champion by finishing last in the 500m speed skating at the Chamonix games of 1924.
The rest of top ten can be divided into countries like Japan and South Korea who like Great Britain have usually elected to fill their quota of competitors without ever really expecting to dominate the competition and countries like the USA and Canada who seem to be here by sheer force of numbers.
Argentina in 6th place with 31 “golds” is comfortably the top nation in this table to have never won a medal by the usual method of accounting with Greece next best in 15th. The most successful nation in the history of the Winter Games, Norway, also proves successful in not losing. Norway’s 15 reverse golds puts them outside the top twenty in our list and subtracted from their genuine gold medal total of 107 puts them at +92 and well clear of the USSR at +74 and Germany at +71. Unfortunately for Britain this method of calculation still keeps them at the wrong end of the list with -44 ahead of Japan on -35 with Argentina moving into third on -31.
It has to be said that coming last in an event doesn’t mean that you’re in the same class at ski jumper Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards and the Mexican cross-country skier who took so long to finish at the Calgary Games that a search party was sent out to look for him. Sometimes it’s just that Lady Luck looks you in the eye and then proceeds to knee you in the groin. That’s what happened to American speed skater Buddy Solem in the 10000 m at the St. Moritz Games of 1948. Halfway through the event a warm wind blew in from the south and started to melt the ice. By the time Solem finished his heat you could see waves forming on the ice each time he passed by. He finished 5 minutes behind the next slowest and nearly ten minutes behind the winner.
My advice to Britain? See what you can do to make additions to the Olympic programme. Maybe the introduction of darts on ice, snow snooker or sub-zero cricket may help drop Britain down the table. On second thoughts, let’s forget sub-zero cricket – the Australians might just prove too good at that.