All posts by Jeroen Heijmans

Will Rio change the all-time medal table?

During every Olympics, all media outlets track the medal table: which nation has won the most medals? Of course, there’s also an all-time table that tallies all medals won since 1896. What can we expect to happen in Rio on this all-time ranking?

The US has won by far the most Olympic medals and would continue to lead even if another nation won all the 306 gold medals at stake in Rio.

One prediction we can confidently make is that the top 3 will not change. The United States is first with over a 1,000 golds and 2,700+ medals, more than double the totals of second placed Soviet Union. As there’s only 306 events held in Rio, that gap can never be closed – even if Lenin stood up from his mausoleum, refounded the USSR and had the team win every event. Even if we would add in the medals won by Russia and the 1992 Unified Team won prior to 1917 and after 1991, this would not be enough. Germany in third is 170 golds behind the Soviets, and almost 50 golds clear of the competition behind it, so that spot is secure.

Can the British keep the 4th place overall that Mo Farah helped them take in 2012?

By contrast, places 4, 5 and 6 on the all-time list are closely contested. Three nations vie for fourth place: Great Britain, France and Italy. The British took a lead with their impressive 29 golds at the home Games in 2012, but France is only three golds behind Britain (and 4 medals total). Italy is not lagging far behind, with five less Olympic titles medals won since 1896 (they are quite far behind in total medals, however). In theory, even 7th placed China could even clear the gap of 35 gold medals as they’ve won 30+ gold medals in the past three Games. Taking over Italy would require a poor showing of the Azzurri, though.

Russia’s medal performance for Rio is unclear due to doping related exclusions of many of its top athletes.

Under normal circumstances, it would be realistic to expect Russia to climb further into the top 10, as the gaps with East Germany (which will definitely not medal) and Sweden (whose showings at Beijing and London were amongst their poorest ever) are not that big. Of course, the exclusion of a sizeable part of the Russian team is  expected to have a negative impact on their totals. Also, the complete results of the doping re-tests of 2008 and 2012 are expected only after the Rio Games, and are thus not yet reflected in the results. This will certainly impact Russia’s medal totals as well.

Further down, Australia and Japan look to be overtaking Finland in the standings, while South Korea might overtake the Netherlands with a good performance in Brazil. The host nation itself, ranked 37th at the moment, will likely not climb a lot. It would need three golds and two silvers overtake idle Yugoslavia, while it could possibly move past Kenya.

Some nations might be entering the table with their first ever medals. In this article at the Official Rio 2016 site, nations tipped for this honour are Fiji, Kosovo, Bosnia Herzegovina, St. Kitts & Nevis, San Marino, Rwanda, Jordan and Honduras.

Below is the current all-time medal table. It includes all medals, including those won at the Winter Olympics as well as the Intercalated 1906 Olympics. It does not yet include corrections from the 2008 and 2012 doping retests.

# Country NOC Golds Silvers Bronzes Total
1 United States USA 1086 866 755 2707
2 Soviet Union URS 473 376 355 1204
3 Germany GER 301 335 326 962
4 Great Britain GBR 256 294 290 840
5 France FRA 253 265 318 836
6 Italy ITA 248 213 233 694
7 China CHN 213 166 147 526
8 Sweden SWE 197 209 239 645
9 East Germany GDR 192 165 162 519
10 Russia RUS 183 166 180 529
11 Norway NOR 177 162 144 483
12 Hungary HUN 170 153 173 496
13 Finland FIN 148 148 176 472
14 Australia AUS 143 159 185 487
15 Japan JPN 140 143 162 445
16 Canada CAN 122 157 174 453
17 Netherlands NED 116 126 144 386
18 South Korea KOR 107 99 90 296
19 Switzerland SUI 105 120 116 341
20 Romania ROU 88 94 120 302
21 Austria AUT 84 118 122 324
22 Poland POL 73 91 135 299
23 Cuba CUB 71 65 66 202
24 West Germany FRG 67 82 94 243
25 Unified Team EUN 54 44 37 135
26 Bulgaria BUL 52 87 81 220
27 Czechoslovakia TCH 51 58 62 171
28 Denmark DEN 46 76 73 195
29 Belgium BEL 43 57 63 163
30 New Zealand NZL 42 19 39 100
31 Greece GRE 39 56 52 147
32 Turkey TUR 39 25 24 88
33 Spain ESP 38 59 36 133
34 Ukraine UKR 35 28 59 122
35 Yugoslavia YUG 26 32 29 87
36 Kenya KEN 25 32 29 86
37 Brazil BRA 23 30 55 108
38 South Africa RSA 23 27 28 78
39 Czech Republic CZE 21 24 23 68
40 Ethiopia ETH 21 7 17 45
41 Belarus BLR 18 28 44 90
42 Argentina ARG 18 24 28 70
43 Jamaica JAM 17 30 20 67
44 Kazakhstan KAZ 17 20 22 59
45 Iran IRI 15 20 25 60
46 North Korea PRK 14 13 22 49
47 Mexico MEX 13 21 27 61
48 Estonia EST 13 11 16 40
49 Mixed team MIX 12 8 8 28
50 Croatia CRO 10 13 11 34
51 Slovakia SVK 9 11 9 29
52 Ireland IRL 9 9 13 31
53 India IND 9 6 11 26
54 Egypt EGY 7 8 9 24
55 Thailand THA 7 6 11 24
56 Slovenia SLO 6 10 18 34
57 Indonesia INA 6 10 11 27
58 Azerbaijan AZE 6 5 15 26
59 Georgia GEO 6 5 14 25
60 Morocco MAR 6 5 11 22
61 Lithuania LTU 6 5 10 21
61 Uzbekistan UZB 6 5 10 21
63 Algeria ALG 5 2 8 15
64 Bahamas BAH 5 2 5 12
65 Portugal POR 4 8 11 23
66 Luxembourg LUX 4 4 0 8
67 Latvia LAT 3 15 8 26
68 Nigeria NGR 3 8 12 23
69 Australasia ANZ 3 4 5 12
70 Zimbabwe ZIM 3 4 1 8
71 Pakistan PAK 3 3 4 10
71 Tunisia TUN 3 3 4 10
73 Dominican Republic DOM 3 2 1 6
74 Cameroon CMR 3 1 1 5
75 Mongolia MGL 2 9 13 24
76 Chinese Taipei TPE 2 7 12 21
77 Chile CHI 2 7 4 13
78 Colombia COL 2 6 11 19
79 Trinidad and Tobago TTO 2 6 10 18
80 Serbia and Montenegro SCG 2 4 3 9
81 Uganda UGA 2 3 2 7
82 Venezuela VEN 2 2 8 12
83 Uruguay URU 2 2 6 10
84 Liechtenstein LIE 2 2 5 9
85 Peru PER 1 3 0 4
86 Armenia ARM 1 2 9 12
87 Serbia SRB 1 2 4 7
88 Israel ISR 1 1 5 7
89 Costa Rica CRC 1 1 2 4
90 Hong Kong HKG 1 1 1 3
90 Syria SYR 1 1 1 3
92 Ecuador ECU 1 1 0 2
93 Panama PAN 1 0 2 3
94 Mozambique MOZ 1 0 1 2
94 Suriname SUR 1 0 1 2
96 Burundi BDI 1 0 0 1
96 Grenada GRN 1 0 0 1
96 United Arab Emirates UAE 1 0 0 1
99 Namibia NAM 0 4 0 4
100 Malaysia MAS 0 3 3 6
101 Philippines PHI 0 2 7 9
102 Puerto Rico PUR 0 2 6 8
103 Moldova MDA 0 2 5 7
104 Iceland ISL 0 2 2 4
104 Lebanon LIB 0 2 2 4
104 Singapore SIN 0 2 2 4
107 Sri Lanka SRI 0 2 0 2
107 Tanzania TAN 0 2 0 2
107 Vietnam VIE 0 2 0 2
110 Bohemia BOH 0 1 5 6
111 Ghana GHA 0 1 3 4
112 Individual Olympic Athletes IOA 0 1 2 3
112 Kyrgyzstan KGZ 0 1 2 3
112 Saudi Arabia KSA 0 1 2 3
112 Tajikistan TJK 0 1 2 3
116 Haiti HAI 0 1 1 2
116 United Arab Republic UAR 0 1 1 2
116 Zambia ZAM 0 1 1 2
119 Botswana BOT 0 1 0 1
119 Cote d'Ivoire CIV 0 1 0 1
119 Cyprus CYP 0 1 0 1
119 Gabon GAB 0 1 0 1
119 Guatemala GUA 0 1 0 1
119 Montenegro MNE 0 1 0 1
119 Netherlands Antilles AHO 0 1 0 1
119 Paraguay PAR 0 1 0 1
119 Senegal SEN 0 1 0 1
119 Sudan SUD 0 1 0 1
119 Tonga TGA 0 1 0 1
119 United States Virgin Islands ISV 0 1 0 1
131 Qatar QAT 0 0 4 4
132 Afghanistan AFG 0 0 2 2
132 Kuwait KUW 0 0 2 2
132 West Indies Federation WIF 0 0 2 2
135 Bahrain BRN 0 0 1 1
135 Barbados BAR 0 0 1 1
135 Bermuda BER 0 0 1 1
135 Djibouti DJI 0 0 1 1
135 Eritrea ERI 0 0 1 1
135 Guyana GUY 0 0 1 1
135 Iraq IRQ 0 0 1 1
135 Macedonia MKD 0 0 1 1
135 Mauritius MRI 0 0 1 1
135 Monaco MON 0 0 1 1
135 Niger NIG 0 0 1 1
135 Togo TOG 0 0 1 1

Teams suspended from Olympic competition

In November, it was announced that no Bulgarian weightlifters will compete at the Rio 2016 Olympics, as a punishment for an excessive amount of doping positives among Bulgarian lifters. Such a suspension is not unique, but – fortunately – still relatively rare. We’ll take a look at other exclusions in Olympic history.

Just look at Bulgaria’s Olympic weightlifting history already reveals a few similar cases. In 1988, the team withdrew after two gold medallists (Mitko Grabnev and Angel Genchev) had tested positive for doping. Twelve years later, three Bulgarian medallists, including gold medallist Izabela Dragneva, were caught with performance enhancing drugs, which was followed by a suspension of the rest of the weightlifting team. In 2008, Bulgaria chose not to compete in the Olympics, with no less than 11 national team members facing doping suspensions in the run-up to the Games. Those low points are now followed by a suspension ahead of the Games.

One of the players in Bulgaria’s tainted Olympic weightlifting past: Izabela Dragneva.

Another group of athletes possibly facing suspension are the Russian track and field athletes. Following a recent report by WADA, the International Assocation of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has supended Russian athletes from competing internationally. Depending on how quick they can reform, they may also miss the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

A similar exclusion came in 1988, when Mexico was banned by the international football federation (FIFA), after they were found to have knowingly used at least four players over the age limit in an U20 tournament. All Mexican representative teams were banned for a period of two years, including the Olympic team that had already qualified for Seoul. They were replaced by Guatemala.

Another age-related suspension was handed out in 2010 by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG). In gymnastics, there is a minimum age for competitors, and North Korea was found to have submitted false birth dates for at least two competitors. They were suspended from international competition for two years, which included the 2012 London Games.

In the past, it has happened several times that nations were not allowed to compete at the Olympics. The first such occasion came in 1920. Despite the fact that Olympic renovator Pierre de Coubertin was not in favor, the (perceived) aggressors of World War I – Austria, Germany, Hungary and Turkey – were not invited. The Germans were not invited in 1924 either, leaving them to return on the Olympic podium only in St. Moritz 1928. Twenty years later, Germany could also not enter the Olympics. Following World War II, the country had been divided by the four allied nations, and the German National Olympic Committee therefore did not formally represent any recognized nation. However, Japan was not allowed to compete in the 1948 Games either, suggestion this formal reason might merely have been an excuse to not invite the war aggressors.

Activist Dennis Brutus campaigned for Apartheid-era South Africa to be banned from the Olympics – with eventual success.

The 1964 Olympics were marked by the suspension of the South African NOC, a year earlier. The South African NOC did not allow mixed-race competition, which was in conflict with the IOC’s non-discrimination policies. In 1970, South Africa was expelled from the International Olympic Committee and only reinstated in 1992. A similar fate befell Rhodesia – present-day Zimbabwe – when its invitation for the 1972 Olympics was revoked shortly before the opening ceremony, and the NOC was suspended. Most African nations did not recognize the (white) Ian Smith regime, and threatened to boycott the Munich Games if the nation were allowed to compete. Rhodesian athletes had already missed the 1968 Olympics when strict interpretation of passport rules meant they could not enter Mexico. Competitors from Taiwan suffered from the same issue in 1976, when they were unable to enter Canada.

Following the break-up of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, a United Nations resolution prohibited teams representing that country at sports events. Individual athletes were allowed to compete, and so the IOC created Individual Olympic Participants, allowing such athletes to take part in Barcelona 1992.

In 1999, the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan was suspended from competition, among others for not allowing women to compete in sports. As of 2012, four Afghan women have competed in the Olympics.

In more recent years, several National Olympic Committees have been suspended by the IOC for not abiding by the rules of the Olympic Charter. Frequently, this concerns government intervention in the NOC, but there may be other reasons. Such suspensions include:

  • Venezuela in 1993
  • Iraq in 2003-2004
  • Panama in 2007-2008
  • Kuwait in 2010-2012 and again in 2015-present
  • Ghana in 2011

Two such suspensions had effects on a nation’s participation in the Olympics. Afghanistan was banned in 1999, causing them to miss the 2000 Olympics – although the Taliban probably couldn’t care less. In 2013, India was also suspended, forcing one of its athletes to compete as an Individual Olympic Athlete during the first week of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The suspension was lifted during the second week, allowing the remaining two competitors to contest their events under the Indian flag.

Luger Shiva Keshavan was forced to compete as an independent athlete in Sochi 2014, as his nation’s NOC (India) had been suspended.

Back in 1962, the Indonesian NOC had also been suspended by the IOC, as they had refused to allow athletes from Taiwan and Israel compete in the Asian Games. Angered by the fact that France and the US (which had refused to allow competitors from East Germany) were not suspended, Indonesian President Sukarno created the Games of the New Emerging Forces (GANEFO). Held in 1963, the IOC banned all athletes that had competed at these Games, which caused Indonesia and North Korea to withdraw from the Tokyo Olympics, even if they were allowed to enter athletes who hadn’t contested the GANEFO. North Korea competed again in the second (and last) edition of the GANEFO (1966), which meant they were suspended by the IOC, causing the nation to miss the 1968 Olympics as well.

Year Country Reason
1920 Germany Not invited as WWI aggressor nation
1920 Austria Not invited as WWI aggressor nation
1920 Hungary Not invited as WWI aggressor nation
1920 Turkey Not invited as WWI aggressor nation
1924 Germany Not invited as WWI aggressor nation
1948 Germany Not invited as WWII aggressor nation (no formal NOC)
1948 Japan  Not invited as WWII aggressor nation
1964 South Africa Suspended by IOC
1968 North Korea Suspended by IOC
1968 South Africa Suspended by IOC
1968 Rhodesia Could not enter host nation
1972 Rhodesia Invitation revoked
1976 Rhodesia Suspended by IOC
1976 Taiwan Could not enter host nation
1988 Mexico (football) Suspended by IF
2000 Afghanistan Suspended by IOC
2012 North Korea (gymnastics) Suspended by IF
2014 India Suspended by IOC
2016 Bulgaria (weightlifting) Suspended by IF

Medals changing hands after the Olympics

The Australian Athletics Federation is looking to overturn Olympic results from 1948 and 1980. It hopes to help Shirley Strickland to a bronze medal in the 1948 200 m and Ian Campbell to a gold in the 1980 triple jump. Although it’s not very likely that they will be successful, medal changes years after the fact are not without precedent in Olympic history. In fact, even if the 1948 result changes 67 years after the fact, it wouldn’t even be a record.

We’ve made a compilation of occasions in Olympic history when the medal results changed at least a month after the end of the Games. All doping related cases have been excluded – they warrant an article of their own.

1904

All Olympic record books list the silver medallist in the 1904 lightweight boxing event as Jack Egan (sometimes spelled Eagan). He lost the final on decision to Harry Spanjer, while Russell Van Horn took third place. But more than a year later, Egan was discovered to have been fighting under an alias. This was not uncommon at the time, as many more wealthy citizens did not want to be associated with sports. Egan’s real name was Frank Floyd, and he came from Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. While this may not seem serious, by the rules of the AAU it was illegal to fight under an assumed name, a so-called ringer. In November 1905, the AAU decided that Egan would be disqualified from all AAU competitions, and he would have to return his prizes. The Atlantic Association that had knowingly accepted Floyd’s application as Egan was also expelled from the AAU.

This late decision to revise the Olympic results in this event has, as far as we know, never been published since the events in 1905, and was only rediscovered in 2008 by Taavi Kalju (a member of the OlyMADMen, just like the authors of this blog). More than 100 years after the fact, Peter Sturholdt can be recognized as a new Olympic medallist – all the more remarkable considering he never won a single fight.

1912

The star athlete of the 1912 Olympics was American Jim Thorpe. He had overwhelmingly won both the pentathlon and the decathlon events.  The King of Sweden gave him his gold medals and told him, “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.”

In early 1913, it was revealed that Thorpe had played minor league baseball in the United States. For this he was retroactively declared a professional by the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) and the IOC and his records at the 1912 Olympics were declared void. He had to return his gold medals. What is not so well known is that Thorpe should never have been disqualified in the first place.

An all-round athlete, Thorpe also played professional football, baseball and basketball

Over the years numerous attempts were made to get the IOC to reverse the decision, mostly started by Thorpe’s children. Some efforts succeeded gradually. In 1973, the AAU restored Thorpe’s amateur status for the years 1909-1912. This was followed in 1975 by the United States Olympic Committee making a similar restoration.

In 1982, the Thorpe family, aided by Bob Wheeler, one of Thorpe’s biographers, and his wife, Florence Ridlon, succeeded in their long struggle to have Jim Thorpe’s medals restored by the International Olympic Committee. It was revealed in Sports Illustrated that a key factor in this decision was a discovery by Ridlon, who found a pamphlet in the Library of Congress which gave the rules and regulations for the 1912 Olympic Games. It stated that the statute of limitations for a claim against any Olympic athlete’s eligibility in 1912 had to have been made within 30 days after the awarding of the prizes. The announcement of Thorpe’s professional baseball career occurred in January 1913. Thus it was almost six months after the end of the Olympics and his disqualification was completely unwarranted.

On 27 February 1982, Wheeler and Ridlon founded The Jim Thorpe Foundation, expressly for the purpose of moving to have his medals and honors restored. On 13 October 1982, only eight months after the formation of The Jim Thorpe Foundation, but fully 70 years too late, the IOC Executive Board approved, in a sense, the restoration of Jim Thorpe’s medals, declaring him co-winner with Sweden’s Hugo Wieslander (decathlon) and Norway’s Ferdinand Bie (pentathlon). At a meeting of the IOC Executive Board, this time on 18 January 1983 in Los Angeles, commemorative medals were presented to Bill and Gail Thorpe, two of Thorpe’s children.

1924

The inaugural Olympic ski jumping competition ended with a clean sweep for the Norwegians – or so it seemed.

Anders Haugen – Olympic medallist after 50 years.

Almost 40 years later, Thoralf Strømstad – a silver medallist in the cross country and Nordic combined at the 1924 Games – contacted Norwegian ski historian Jacob Vaage, claiming that the points from the ski jumping event for Thorleif Haug had been miscalculated, and that his final points should be behind Haugen’s. Vaage checked the case and had to agree with the 77-year-old Strømstad. In 1974 IOC decided to award the bronze medal to Haugen, at that time an elderly gentleman of 86. He was invited to Norway, and at a nice ceremony Haug’s bronze medal from 1924 was handed over to Haugen by Haug’s youngest daughter. Thorleif Haug himself died already in December 1934 from pneumonia at the age of 40. But Haugen was pleased to meet some of his Norwegian competitors from 1924: Narve Bonna, Einar Landvik and also Thoralf Strømstad, the man responsible for justice being made after 40 years.

1952

America’s Ed Sanders created carnage in the heavyweight boxing division in Helsinki as he battered his way to the final with three brutal knockout victories. His opponent in the final, Sweden’s Ingemar Johansson, appeared to be completely intimidated by the American’s reputation and spent most of the fight backpedalling around the ring. When Sanders did get into range Johansson would simply grab hold of his opponent. Eventually an increasingly irate referee grew tired of warning the Swede and disqualified him for “not trying”. This also had the effect of denying Johansson his silver medal and the second step on the podium remained vacant.

Ingemar Johansson, who waited almost three decades to receive his silver medal.

Johansson did become a household name as a professional when he became the first European to win the World Heavyweight Championship for over 20 years after knocking out Olympic champion Floyd Patterson. In 1982, 30 years after his Olympic embarrassment, Johansson was finally awarded his silver medal after the IOC were persuaded to reverse their decision.

But Johansson was not the only boxer from 1952 to receive his medal late. In 1950, the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) had decided to eliminated the bronze medal match, having the losing finalists place an equal third. This was accepted by the IOC, on condition that they would not receive a bronze medal. This is indeed what happened in Helsinki.

But 1970, the president of the Finnish Boxing Association brought up the subject with AIBA, noting the absence of bronze medals in the boxing events to be an injustice. The AIBA President, Rudyard Russell, concurred and contacted the IOC. They received approval for the matter through IOC director Monique Berlioux, although no formal decision was made during an IOC Session. Six of the 20 losing semi-finalists received the medal in a ceremony in Finland on 2-3 April 1970, while the others received theirs in the mail.

1964

The pair’s competition at the Innsbruck figure skating was won by the Soviet husband-wife pair of Lyudmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov, beating the favored German pair of Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler. Shortly after the Innsbruck Olympics, it was revealed that Kilius/Bäumler had signed a professional contract prior to the event to perform with Holiday on Ice. This should have disqualified them as professionals, but strangely no definite action was initially taken against them by the IOC or the International Skating Union.

Kilius and Bäumler (left) at the 1964 medal ceremony

A few weeks later they won the World Championships, defeating Belousova and Protopopov. It was felt that the West German Olympic Committee, lobbying the IOC for the 1972 Olympic bid, wanted to present themselves in the best possible manner and encouraged the German skaters to return their medals. The IOC formed a special sub-committee to examine the case, and the minutes of the Executive Committee note, “A special sub-committee under Ivar Vind had studied the case of the German figure skaters. They had been found ‘non-amateurs’. Willi Daume said that ‘The German NOC will do what is necessary.’

At the 65th IOC session the IOC passed a resolution, which was printed in the Olympic Review, volume 95, page 39, from 15 August 1966 which stated, “We have received the silver medals back, and we will award them to the original third-place finishers. The bronze medals will be awarded to the original fourth-place finishers.” In January 1966, Kilius/Bäumler returned their silver medals to the IOC. Silver medals were awarded to Wilkes and Revell by Canadian IOC Member James Worrall during the 1967 Canadian Figure Skating Championships, while the Josephs received bronze medals from USOC President Tug Wilson at a small private ceremony at the Sheraton Hotel in Chicago, during the 1966 USA Figure Skating Championships. However, no action was ever taken by the ISU, who continued to list Kilius/Bäumler as silver medalists and World Champions in 1964.

However, the controversy did not end there. In 1987, the German NOC rather surreptitiously requested the return of the silver medals to Kilius and Bäumler, which was in keeping with the ISU ruling as well. They asked the IOC to do this, stating that it was known that other skaters had signed similar contracts in that era. At the 1987 IOC Session in Istanbul, the IOC approved this request and the Germans received new silver medals on 5 December 1987, when German NOC president Willi Daume presented replicas of the originals to Kilius and Bäumler on the German television show “Sportstudio”.

Contacted in the late 90s, Debbi Wilkes and Vivian Joseph knew nothing of this, and still thought the German pair had been disqualified. Wilkes and Revell kept their silver medals, in fact, Revell’s medal was buried with him after his death, and the Josephs kept their bronze medals. Thus four silver medals were eventually awarded in this event. The IOC lists did not change the standings for many years, but recognizing that two sets of silver medals have been awarded in this event, now list Kilius/Bäumler and Wilkes/Revell as =2nd and as silver medalists, and have the Josephs in 3rd place with bronze medals. The ISU has never changed the original rankings, continuing to list Kilius/Bäumler 2nd, Wilkes/Revell 3rd, and the Josephs 4th.

1968

In a similar case to the 1952 boxing, American featherweight Al Robinson was disqualified in the final against home fighter Antonio Roldán. In a dubious decision, Robinson was disqualified for head butting. As in 1952, this officially ruled him out of a silver medal. However, US officials protested the decision and Robinson received the medal after returning home. He did not enjoy it for long, as he fell into a coma during training in 1971, and eventually died three years later.

1984

The women’s 100 m hurdles, severely hurt by the Soviet boycott, saw Benita Fitzgerald-Brown edge out Shirley Strong (GBR). Third-place was announced at first as a dead heat between Kim Turner (USA) and France’s Michele Chardonnet, but after reviewing photos of the finish, the judges reversed themselves and gave the bronze medal to Turner. But Chardonnet was not informed of this until she was standing on the infield awaiting the medal ceremony, and she left the field sobbing. The French Athletics Federation protested and 3½ months later the decision was reverted to a dead-heat. Chardonnet received her bronze medal six months after the Olympics ended.

Kim Turner (right) on her way to a shared bronze.

 

1992

Canadian Sylvie Fréchette, the 1991 World Champion and World Cup Champion was favored to win the women’s solo synchronized swimming event at the Barcelona Games. She was expected to be challenged by American Kristin Babb-Sprague, who was stronger in the freestyle final routine. Fréchette was expected to open a lead in the technical figures. But in that segment, Brazilian judge Maria de Silveira gave Fréchette an unaccountably low score of 8.7. De Silveira maintained that she had made a mistake and hit the wrong button, and meant to give her a score of 9.7. But the score could not be changed, per the FINA rules. The Canadians appealed the decision after the technical figures, but this was overturned 11-2, the two dissenting votes coming from the Canadian members of the Jury of Appeal. This let Babb-Sprague take the lead after the technical figures, and Fréchette was unable to overcome that lead, as Babb-Sprague seemingly won the gold medal.

Fréchette hugs Babb-Sprague from the silver medal section of the podium.

But that would not be the end of it. Dick Pound, powerful Canadian IOC Member, led a further appeal to have the results overturned. FINA eventually caved to the pressure and elected to declare Fréchette and Babb-Sprague as co-champions, and awarded Fréchette a gold medal in October 1993.

2000

Dong Fangxiao, who was only 14 years old at the time of the Sydney Olympics

 

As a member of the Chinese women’s gymnastics team at the Sydney Olympics, Dong Fangxiao earned a bronze medal. Eight years later, she was entered as an official for the Beijing Olympics. The birth information she used for that application – stating a birth year of 1986 – was different from the one used at the Sydney Games, when she claimed to have been born in 1983.

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) launched an investigation, as a birth year of 1986 would have made Dong only 14 at the time of the Sydney Olympics, two years under the age limit of 16. The FIG concluded 1986 was Dong’s actual birth year, and disqualified her from the 2000 Games. The IOC went along with that verdict, and handed the bronze medal from the team all-around to the United States.

Is Caitlyn Jenner the first transgender Olympian?

Appearing on the cover of Vanity Fair last week, Caitlyn Jenner revealed her new identity and  name to the world. She was previously known as Bruce Jenner, and was the 1976 Olympic decathlon champion. Probably the most famous transgender worldwide, Jenner’s definitely the most famous transgender Olympian. But is she also the first?

Jenner after winning Olympic decathlon gold in 1976.

The answer is, as you might expect on this site, no. As far as we know, Jenner is the second transgender Olympian, the first one being Balian Buschbaum, who announced his gender reassignment surgery in 2008. Under the name Yvonne, Buschbaum had competed in the women’s pole vault at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The reigning European Junior Champion, she placed a credible sixth.

Buschbaum after winning a medal at the 2002 European Championships

Jenner and Buschbaum are not the only transgender athletes in history, of course. A few famous examples:

  • In the 1930s, Czechoslovakian middle distance runner Zdena Koubková, winner of the 800m at the 1934 Women’s World Games, underwent surgery to become Zdeněk Koubek.
  • In 1979, tennis player Renée Richards reached the third round of the US Open ladies’ singles, and semi-finals in mixed doubles. She had been born as Richard Raskind, and had competed in the men’s tournament in the 1950s. Richards had to go through a long legal battle before being allowed to play, but she achieved a landmark victory for transgender rights in sports.
  • 1986 European shot put champion Heidi Krieger (DDR) became Andreas in 1997, although this was heavily influenced by the immense doses of anabolic steroids that Krieger had received from the DDR doping program as an athlete.

Andreas Krieger, formerly known as shot putter Heidi Krieger.

Both Jenner and Buschbaum only underwent gender reassignment after their Olympic appearances. To our best knowledge, no Olympians have competed after transgender surgery.  It may only be a matter of time before transgender athletes do compete, as transgender athletes are appearing in several sports, such as cyclists Natalie van Gogh (Netherlands) and Michelle Dumaresq (Canada). However, their involvement in sport is still controversial. Especially in the case of men becoming women, many perceive this as an unfair competitive advantage. While transgenders might have some physical advantages (such as a greater height), their hormone treatments actually puts them at a disadvantage compared to their competitors.

A glimpse of the expected controversy of transgenders competing in the Olympics might be seen by looking at intersexual athletes. Often confused with transgenders, intersexuals have both male and female characteristics from birth. Some, but not all  also decide to undergo surgery to become either a man or a woman. The history of intersexuals in the Olympics has been troublesome.

Polish sprinter Stanisława Walasiewicz (also known as Stella Walsh), who won the 100 m at the 1932 Olympics, had on several occasions been accused of being a man. Upon her death, it was revealed she was a gynandromorph, implying normal external sexual characteristics, but mixed internal sexual organs. In many sources, however, this is (still) simplified to her being a man.

1932 sprint champion Walasiewicz and 1936 champion Stephens.

A contemporary of Walasiewciz, German high jumper Dora Ratjen, fourth at the 1936 Olympics, was “exposed” as a man after winning the 1938 European Championships. Ratjen was, in fact, intersexual, and had been raised as a girl. Ratjen did officially register as a man subsequently, under the name of Heinz.

Due to suspicions that some (Eastern European) female athletes competing in the 1950s and 1960s were in fact men, the IOC and other sports federations introduced so- called “sex-tests”.  Polish sprinter Ewa Kłobukowska, Olympic relay champion in 1964, was banned from sports in 1967 after failing the original IOC gender test (see below).  Kłobukowska would have passed later versions of the test, and to prove her womanhood, she gave birth to a son in 1968.

Another noted victim of the sex tests was 1966 giant slalom champion Erika Schinegger. Prior to the Grenoble Winter Olympics, she failed a sex test due to being intersexual, and was not allowed to compete. Schinegger later officially became a man, Erik Schinegger.

In the 1990s, prompted among others by lawsuits by Spanish hurdler Maria José Martínez-Patiño, most sports governing bodies abandoned the tests.

The whole concept of gender identity is a difficult one, both in sports and scientifically and psychologically in society, and in sports it has a long history. In the 1960s, concern about the problem of men posing as women to gain a competitive advantage led to the introduction of gender verification by the IOC, at the time called sex testing. Several female track & field athletes were then suspected of being genetically male.

From 1968-88, all women wishing to compete in the Olympics were required to undergo sex testing, with one exception, that being Princess Anne of Great Britain, who competed in the 1976 Olympics in the equestrian events. Testing was initially done by obtaining a buccal smear, or a scraping of the cells of the inner wall of the mouth. The cells were examined for the presence of a Barr body, which occurs almost exclusively in females. Females are genetically labeled as XX, while men are labeled as XY, those being the classifications of the respective sex chromosomes. The second X chromosome possessed by women contains a structure termed the Barr body.

Though some men did attempt to breach the rules and compete as women, the entire subject of mixed sexual characteristics is a highly complex and emotional one. A number of people with mixed sexual identity may have elected to compete as women for psychological reasons. In addition, doctors typically label babies with indeterminate genitalia as women. And in certain cases of mixed sex classification, some people who would be considered women lack a Barr body, and would thus have been disqualified.

Because of these problems, the test was later changed and the buccal smear no longer used. Women were then cleared for international competition by doctors after simply undergoing a physical examination. In the late 1980s, this method was replaced by a polymerase chain reaction evaluation, looking for the Y-linked SRY gene (sex-determining region Y), and this method was used at both the 1992 and 1996 Olympics

But problems still existed. It was noted that the test failed to exclude all potential impostors, was discriminatory against women with disorders of sexual development, and could be psychologically devastating for a female athlete failing such a test. Thus, during the 1996 IOC World Conference on Women and Health, the IOC passed a resolution “to discontinue the current process of gender verification during the Olympic Games.” The IOC Athletes’ Commission recommended to the IOC Executive Board in January 1999 that gender identification should be eliminated, and this decision was ratified by the IOC Executive Board in June 1999.

However, the IOC Medical Commission addressed the issue of sex reassignment in 2003-2004. Their recommendations were approved by the IOC Executive Board in May 2004. The conclusions of this study were: 1) individuals undergoing sex reassignment of male to female before puberty should be regarded as girls and women (female); 2) individuals undergoing sex reassignment of female to male before puberty should be regarded as boys and men (male); 3) individuals undergoing sex reassignment from male to female after puberty (and vice versa) be eligible for participation in female or male competitions, respectively, under the following conditions: 3a) surgical anatomical changes have been completed, including external genitalia changes and gonadectomy; 3b) legal recognition of the assigned sex has been conferred by the appropriate official authorities; 3c) hormonal therapy appropriate for the assigned sex has been administered in a verifiable manner and for a sufficient length of time to minimize gender-related advantages in sport competitions; 3d) eligibility should begin no sooner than two years after gonadectomy; and 4) evaluation will occur on a confidential case-by-case basis.

The entire subject is very difficult, in many ways. Interestingly, Renée Richards, described above as playing on the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tour after changing to female gender, has come to believe that the IOC ruling is incorrect, and that men changing to women should not be allowed to compete at the highest levels of sport, because they could have an advantage. Of note, Richards is a medical doctor and likely understands all aspects of this discussion far better than anyone. See her interview and discussion on the topic here.

All these multiple administrative decisions paved the way for Brazilian judoka Edinanci Silva to compete in the Olympics from 1996 through 2008. Born intersexual, she underwent surgery to become a woman.

Edinanci da Silva after winning at the 2007 Pan American Games.

But the abolition of gender testing did not kill all controversy. In 2009, South African Castor Semenya won the women’s 800 m at the athletics World Championships. There were wild speculations about her being a man and/or having a genetic disorder. The IAAF responded non-tactfully and with a re-instated gender test, but her results were allowed to stand. Semenya went on to carry the South African flag at the opening of the 2012 Olympics, and won a silver medal in the event.

Let’s hope that Caitlyn Jenner’s public transition will help future transgenders and intersexuals in being accepted as regular competitors.

One in every five table tennis Olympians is Chinese

The World Table Tennis Championships are getting underway on April 26 in Suzhou (China). World Championships in the sport were first held in 1926, but it took until 1988 for the sport to make it to the Olympics. From the first Games at Seoul, the sport has been dominated by China.

Deng Yaping, who won back-to-back singles and doubles titles in 1992-1996.

This is of course not a secret: you just have to look at the medal tables. Of the 88 Olympic medals awarded in this sport, 47 have been won by China (53%), but with 24 of the 28 gold medals (86%) going to the People’s Republic.

China’s dominance is so large that also the IOC and the ITTF (the IF for table tennis) have taken notice. In 2008, the men’s and women’s doubles events were discontinued in favor of team events. This change ensures that China can win at most one medal in those events. To date, however, China has won all four team golds awarded at the Olympics. In 2012, further regulations were introduced to limit the amount of Chinese medals. After China sweeping all six singles medals in Beijing, the athlete quotum per nation was reduced to two, ensuring at least one non-Chinese medal in each singles event. In London, the Chinese table tennis players achieved a maximum score, occupying both finals.

The vast amount of Chinese talent competing for an ever smaller chance to compete in the Olympics has driven many Chinese players abroad. Even three of the thirty-six Chinese players that did manage to represent their motherland at the Olympics have competed for another nation. Wei Qingguang, 1988 gold medalist, returned to the 2000 Games as Seiko Iseki (Japan). Another 1988 champion, Chen Jing, represented ‘the other China’, Chinese Taipei in 1996-2000, while Barcelona silver medalist Jun Gao competed under the US flag three times.

Jun Gao (previously competing for China) is playing for the US here against Xue Wu, another native Chinese who represents the Dominican Republic

However, there are just the tip of the iceberg. Of the 666 (!) Olympic table tennis competitors, there are 630 that have never represented the People’s Republic of China. However, at least 91(*) of them have been born in China. Combined with the Chinese competitors, this means that about a fifth of all table tennis Olympians are Chinese!

These 91 Chinese competitors represented 24 different nations, mostly these five:

Nation Competitors
Hong Kong 11
Canada 10
Singapore 9
Australia 8
United States 7

The Singaporese table tennis team that won silver in Beijing 2008 consisted entirely of naturalized Chinese players

Hong Kong is not a surprising entry on the list, considering it is a Special Administrative Region of China, but with its own delegation at the Olympics. Singapore has a large community of ethnic Chinese, and has set up the Foreign Sports Talent Scheme to grow the pool of national athletes. Three Chinese-born women made up the team that won silver for Singapore in 2008, the city state’s greatest Olympic achievement (the country had won one earlier silver medal back in 1956). Canada, the US and Australia have of course been popular emigration destinations for Chinese, and some of the “Chinese” Olympians from these nations moved there at a young age or to marry, and not just to gain different passport and compete internationally.

(*) The actual number could be even bigger than 91. For a large number of table tennis competitors, we don’t have birth data, and this includes 11 Hong Kong players, but also some other possible Chinese, such as the Swiss player Dai-Yong Tu.

Marianne Vos wants 3 golds in 3 cycling disciplines

Dutch cyclist Marianne Vos has announced that she will be focusing on mountain biking for the coming season, as she aims to win a gold medal in the cross-country in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Vos has already won gold medals in track cycling (2008) and road cycling (2012), and winning in mountain-biking would a third gold in a third cycling discipline. Has that been done before?

Marianne Vos winning the road race in Londen 2012

Combining cycling disciplines is not rare. Quite a few of today’s road racing stars – where most money is earned – have started out on the track or on a mountain-bike. And many of them have excelled in both, as there’s well over 400 cyclists who have competed in multiple disciplines at the Olympics.

Winning medals in multiple disciplines is much rarer, although there are still 23 Olympians who have achieved this. All of them have done this in two disciplines – so Vos would be the first to do it in three. In all cases, the combination was between track cycling and road racing. Of these 23, 7 have won gold medals in both disciplines. (A full list of all track/road medallists follows below.)

The first time a cyclist won medals in more than one discipline was in 1906, when two Frenchmen, Fernand Vast and Maurice Bardonneau, won medals in both types of events. Women’s cycling was introduced at the Olympics only in 1984, but by 1992 two women had already doubled in cycling disciplines. On the podium of the Barcelona women’s 3,000 m individual pursuit, both silver medallist Kathy Watt and bronze medallist Rebecca Twigg had already won medals in road cycling. Only one cyclist has won multiple medals in multiple disciplines. This is Dutch cyclist Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel, who in 2000-2004 collected three golds on the road, while adding one of each color in track cycling.

Although Vos is inexperienced in mountain-biking competition, her prospects of qualifying and winning (a medal) are not that bad. Vos is a 7-time world champion in cyclo-cross, a non-Olympic cycling discipline that features off-road racing with regular width tyres, as opposed to the “fat” MTB tyres.

Marianne Vos riding towards her seventh cyclo-cross world title

But even if Marianne Vos would fail to become the first cyclist to win (gold) medals in three cycling disciplines, she could still set a record by participating. Since the third (mountainbiking) and fourth (BMX) discipline have been added at the Olympics in 1996 and 2008 respectively, there have been several athletes to compete in one of these in addition to another cycling discipline, but so far no cyclist has competed in three.

Cyclist NOC Years Track Gold Track Silver Track Bronze Road Gold Road Silver Road Bronze
Judith Arndt GER 1996-2012 0 0 1 0 2 0
Maurice Bardonneau FRA 1906 0 1 0 0 1 0
Chris Boardman GBR 1992-1996 1 0 0 0 0 1
Jean Van Den Bosch BEL 1924 0 0 1 0 1 0
Robert Charpentier FRA 1936 1 0 0 2 0 0
Bernd Dittert GDR/GER 1988-1992 0 0 1 1 0 0
Jacques Dupont FRA 1948 1 0 0 0 0 1
Jean Goujon FRA 1936 1 0 0 1 0 0
Rik Hoevenaers BEL 1924 0 0 1 0 2 0
Henry Kaltenbrunn RSA 1920 0 0 1 0 1 0
Guy Lapébie FRA 1936 1 0 0 1 1 0
Leon Meredith GBR 1908-1912 1 0 0 0 1 0
Fernand Saivé BEL 1924 0 0 1 0 1 0
Olga Slyusareva RUS 2000-2004 1 0 1 0 0 1
Frank Southall GBR 1928-1932 0 0 1 0 2 0
Rebecca Twigg USA 1984-1992 0 0 1 0 1 0
Fernand Vast FRA 1906 0 0 2 1 0 0
Michel Vermeulin FRA 1956 0 1 0 1 0 0
Marianne Vos NED 2008-2012 1 0 0 1 0 0
Kathy Watt AUS 1992 0 1 0 1 0 0
Bradley Wiggins GBR 2000-2012 3 1 2 1 0 0
Vyacheslav Yekimov RUS 1988-2004 1 0 0 2 0 0
Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel NED 2000-2004 1 1 1 3 0 0

Bradley Wiggins won his fourth Olympic cycling gold – and his first on the road – at the London 2012 Games

Cricket and the Olympics

On the 14th of February, the 2015 Cricket World Cup got underway in Australia and New Zealand. It is the largest sporting event after the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup, although it will be mainly followed in (former) members of the British Commonwealth. Cricket was an Olympic sport for only a single match, but connections between the two stretch from 1866 to 2012.

Crystal Palace

Our connection begins 30 years before the first modern Olympics, at the 1866 British National Olympic Games. These were in a large part the effort of William Penny Brookes. Brookes was also the founder of the Wenlock Olympian Games, first held in 1850 and still contested today.

Held at Crystal Palace, the National Olympic Games were a big success. The 440 yard hurdles event was won by an 18-year-old who had taken some time off from a cricket match: W.G. Grace.

Most cricket connaisseurs will need no further explanation, but for those not in the know, William Gilbert Grace, going by W.G. Grace, is one of the greatest cricketers of all time. The bearded legend is described well at CricInfo:

The statistics of his career are alone enough to explain why – more than 54,000 first-class runs (there are at least two different versions of the precise figure, so let’s leave it at that) spread across 44 seasons, including 839 in just eight days of 1876, when he hit a couple of triple-centuries, and only one other batsman managed to top a thousand runs in the entire season; a thousand in May in 1895, when he was nearly 47; and 2800-odd wickets costing less than 18 runs apiece.

An Olympic sport

In 1894, cricket’s association with the Olympics becomes much closer. At the time the IOC is founded, cricket is one of the few well-organized sports, and it is therefore not surprising that it ends up on the short-list of sports for the first Olympics in 1896.

The sport was however never held, no doubt hampered by the fact that Athens (or Greece, for that matter), lacked a wicket.

The first and only ever Olympic cricket match was held at the 1900 Games. Belgium, Britain and the Netherlands, were scheduled to send a team to France, each to play the host nation, but not each other. However, the Low Countries failed to send teams, leaving France v. Great Britain as the only match.

Great Britain (or England, as they were billed) was represented by the touring Devon and Somerset Wanderers, while the French team was made up of clubs that belonged to the Union des Sociétés Français de Sports Athlétiques (USFSA). Most of the “French” players were actually British expatriates living in France, and we’ve only been able to confirm three team members to be French.

The twelve-a-side match was not an exciting affair, the British side being far stronger, eventually winning by 158 runs (see the original scorecard as well as a match report). Most of the Olympic competitors were, as Ian Buchanan has put it “distinctly average club players”, with the exception of two Wanderers players: Montague Toller and Alfred Bowerman, who both played first-class cricket (that’s the top-level, three-days-or-more form of cricket).

No return to the Games

The closest cricket has ever got to making a return to the Olympic Games after its brief appearance in 1900 came four years later in the unlikely setting of St. Louis, Missouri. September 22 was due to see the start of a tournament to decide the “World’s Amateur Cricket Championships” but, a few weeks before it was due to begin, the event was cancelled due to a lack of available pitches. The only confirmed entry we know of came from the city of Philadelphia. The Philadelphians, who included America’s greatest ever cricketer Bart King, would have been rated  alongside South Africa, England and Australia as the four best teams in the world at the time.

Tentative plans were made for a cricket tournament at the 1908 Rome Olympics. When Rome relinquished its right to hold the Games, London made no effort to follow through with these plans.

 So far, cricket has never returned to the Olympics, although the short Twenty20 format seems an ideal candidate for this. Reasons for the sports non-inclusion are rumored to sit with the sport’s governing body ICC and its most powerful members. The ICC is recognized by the IOC.

First-class Olympians

Toller and Bowerman, who played in 1900, are not the only Olympians to have played first-class cricket. We have identified at least 38 more Olympians with at least 1 first-class match. 24 of them competed at the Olympics in field hockey, which makes sense if you know that in Britain, cricket was only played in summer, with hockey or rugby being the winter-time activity.

Brian Booth batting for Australia

Of these 40 first-class players, there are four who have also played in Test matches (first-class matches between countries that have been given Test status):

  • Brian Booth played 29 Test matches for Australia (1961-66), after competing at the 1956 Olympics in hockey. He captained the team for two matches during the 1965-66 Ashes series.
  • John Douglas played 23 Test matches for England (1911-25). In 1908, he won Olympic gold in the middleweight boxing division. He died tragically in a shipwreck off the Danish coast.
  • Claude Buckenham contested 4 Test matches for England (1909-10), all in the English tour of South Africa in those years. Earlier, Buckenham had played football for Upton Park FC, which represented Britain in football at the 1900 Olympics, winning the Olympic “tournament”.
  • Jack MacBryan is credited with a single Test match for England. He played during a rain-plagued match against South Africa in 1924, where did not bowl, bat or dismiss anybody, while fielding for 66.5 overs. Four years earlier, he had won a gold medal in field hockey.

 Cricket venues

As a final link between the Olympics and top class cricket, four cricket grounds have been used as an Olympic venue. This does not include the 1900 Olympics, as that match was held as the Vincennes velodrome.

In 1928, the demonstration sport of kaatsen (similar to the US version of handball and pelota) was held on the cricket grounds outside the Amsterdam Olympic Stadium. A much better known venue is the Melbourne Cricket Ground. At the 1956 Olympics, it was the main stadium, hosting the opening and closing ceremony, the track and field competitions, as well as matches in football and field hockey. Demonstration matches in baseball and Aussie rules football were also conducted at the MCG.

For the 2000 Olympics, several football matches were held in the stadium. The same occurred in Brisbane, where the Brisbane Cricket Ground served as the venue.

The most famous cricket ground in the world is Lord’s, which calls itself “The home of cricket”. With some right: it has been in use at its current location since 1814. At the 2012 Olympics, the archery competitions were held there.

The archery competitions at Lord’s.

Alpine World Championships were once held during the Olympics

On Tuesday the World Alpine Skiing Championships get underway in Colorado (USA) towns of Vail and Beaver Creek. From 1948 through 1980, no World Championships in the sport were held in Olympic years, with the Olympic races doubling as World Championships – except for the combined event. This event, which has been on the Olympic Program again since 1988, did produce a World Champion, but not an Olympic Champion. Who are these Olympic “champions”?

Gustavo Thöni (center) twice won the “Olympic” combined event, in 1972 and 1976. He also won three Olympic medals at these Games.

After the combined event was held in both 1936 and 1948, it was abandoned in 1952 to make room for the new giant slalom competition. But as it was still held at the regular World Championships (which were held in even years between Olympics), the combined event returned in 1956. However, it was never an actual event – no separate races were held – but instead conducted on paper only. Based on weighting factors and the time behind the winner of each race, the skiers were awarded points, with the lowest total winning (this format was later replaced by a simpler format with finishing times simply added up). Another difference with the present-day combined event is that it also included the giant slalom, not just the downhill and the slalom. From 1956 through 1980, the medal winners in these events were:

Year Gender Gold NOC Silver NOC Bronze NOC
1956 Men Toni Sailer AUT Charles Bozon FRA Stig Sollander SWE
1956 Women Madeleine Berthod SUI Fieda Dänzer SUI Giuliana Chenal-Minuzzo ITA
1960 Men Guy Périllat FRA Charles Bozon FRA Hans-Peter Lanig GER
1960 Women Anne Heggtveit CAN Sonja Sperl GER Barbi Henneberger GER
1964 Men Ludwig Leitner GER Gerhard Nenning AUT Billy Kidd USA
1964 Women Marielle Goitschel FRA Christl Haas AUT Edith Zimmermann AUT
1968 Men Jean-Claude Killy FRA Dumeng Giovanoli SUI Heinrich Messner AUT
1968 Women Nancy Greene CAN Marielle Goitschel FRA Annie Famose FRA
1972 Men Gustav Thöni ITA Walter Tresch SUI Jim Hunter CAN
1972 Women Annemarie Möser-Pröll AUT Florence Steurer FRA Toril Førland NOR
1976 Men Gustav Thöni ITA Willi Frommelt LIE Greg Jones USA
1976 Women Rosi Mittermaier FRG Danièle Debernard FRA Hanni Wenzel LIE
1980 Men Phil Mahre USA Andreas Wenzel LIE Leonahard Stock AUT
1980 Women Hanni Wenzel LIE Cindy Nelson USA Ingrid Eberle AUT

Many of these are not surprising winners, as Sailer, Killy, Mittermaier and Wenzel medalled in all three events. Others, however, are not known as Olympics heroes. Ludwig Leitner, for example, did not reach the podium on any of the Olympic events, but did achieve three top eight positions. The 1972 bronze medallist, Jim Hunter, didn’t place in the top 10 in any of the three races.

Hanni Wenzel won both of Liechstein’s only two Olympic titles to date in 1980, and could have won a third one if the combined event would have had medal status at the time.

 

How many Olympians have there been?

You’d think that one of the easier questions for us to answer would be: “How many Olympians have there been”? This simple question is actually quite hard to answer. We do have an answer, of course, but it’s also definitely wrong.

As with many statistical issues, one first has to define what an Olympian is. We could look to the World Olympians Association (WOA), which defines an Olympian as:

An Olympian is an athlete who has been accredited to participate in the Olympic Games in a full medal sport.

This is a useful starting point: it explicitly names athletes (so no coaches, doctors, team leaders, etc.) and also excludes competitors in demonstration sports (which have not been held since 1992), exhibitions (last held in 2008) and other side-events. However, the “accredited” part of the definition is a bit less useful for us.

Among accredited athletes are of course those who eventually compete, but also those who fail to start for any reason (injury, disability, left off the team) or are only brought on a substitutes. In some sports, there are even various levels of accreditation. For example, in football (or soccer if you prefer), each team is nowadays allowed to enter 18 players, which are allowed to stay in the Olympic Village. However, if one of these gets injured, they are allowed to replaced them by one of four players on a separate list. Many of these alternate players don’t actually go to the Olympics, but they do have an accreditation. It seems to us that  being present at the Olympics would be a minimum to qualify as an Olympian.

The 18 Mexican football players that were handed an Olympic gold medal in London 2012.

We could then, of course, use that criterion to decide who is an Olympian. But this is pretty hard. Finding entry lists or accreditation lists is one, but these never say if a person was actually in town or not, which means we would have to figure this out for each athlete personally. And not just for recent years, but also for entrants from 1896, making this a virtually impossible task.

So instead of following the WOA, we’ve used our own definition:

An Olympian is an athlete who has competed in the Olympic Games in a full medal sport.

But that definition still isn’t complete. What exactly is a full medal sport? And what are Olympic Games, even?

Turns out that you can debate about both. While the Olympic Games of the modern era are pretty well-known, there’s an odd-one-out: the 1906 Intercalated Games in Athens. While organized and approved by the IOC at the time, the IOC later decide not to recognize these Games as official – despite their importance to the Olympic Movement. Many Olympic historians disagree with this view, and so do we, so we include these Games in our figures.

Ray Ewry won a total of 10 Olympic gold medals, including two at the 1906 Intercalated Games, which are not currently recognized by the IOC.

Regarding the full medal sports, there is also debate about the early Olympics. In 1900, the Olympics were held in conjunction with the sports events at the World Exposition in Paris. Many events did not use the predicate ‘Olympic’, despite the fact that the we consider them to have been part of the Olympics. Four years later, when the Olympics were a side-show of yet another major exhibition (the Louisiana Purchase Exposition), the organizers did the opposite, and labelled every sporting event “Olympic”, including e.g. track and field championships for elementary school boys from St. Louis, handicap races, and other competitions hardly word the predicate “Olympic”.

Archery_on_Antropology_days_during_1904_Summer_Olympics

One of the more shameful “Olympic” events in St. Louis were the Anthropology Days in St. Louis, were so-called ‘savages’ competed against one another.

Some historians indeed consider all events held in Paris and St. Louis to have been Olympic. The IOC has never officially made a list of Olympic events in 1900 and 1904, although the list of medallists on their website can be taken as such. A clear method by the IOC to decide which events are Olympic, however, is unknown to us. The approach we use was set up by one of us, Bill Mallon, in the late 1990s when writing books about those early Olympics. He applied four criteria to events:

  1. the events must be open to amateurs only (this was the IOC opinion at the time)
  2. all competitors must compete equally (disallowing handicap events)
  3. the events must be open to competitors from all nations (even if only competitors from one nation competed)
  4. the events must be open to all (no limitations on age, origin, competency, etc. such as “junior”, “novice”)

This gives a list that excludes many of the fringe events held in these years, but is also slightly longer than the one used by the IOC.

Moving forward in time, there’s another category of events that qualified as full medal events at the time they were held, but that are often omitted: the art, aeronautics and alpinism competitions. From 1912 through 1948, Olympic medals were awarded in art, and between 1924 and 1936, medals were also handed out in alpinism and aeronautics. These medallists are not found on the IOC website, but they definitely received medals, which is why we include them as well.

So, with all that defining out of the way, it’s finally time to give you a number:

128,420

Now, we do have to say that this number is – sadly – wrong. Records books of the Olympics aren’t always complete, and we know for certain that many athletes are missing. For example, the members of the Greek gymnastics teams in 1896 have so far never surfaced, and neither have the names of the art competitors in 1920 that didn’t win a prize. In some cases, we do even know the number of athletes that we’re missing, but we don’t know if these are all “new” Olympians or not.

Even for more recent Olympics, information on who competed isn’t always clear-cut. In handball, all players on the team are listed on the match roster, even if they didn’t play. For recent years, detailed substitution information is available, but this is lacking for earlier years, leaving us to rely alternative sources such as video footage, contact with the athlete in question, etc.

Some of the 128,420 Olympians during the opening of the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.

Apart from missing data in the sources, we are of course only human, and therefore make errors. For example, we recently figured out we had missed two substitutes in the 1964 4-man bobsled competition (although both were already known as Olympians) – even though this information was in the Official Results.

To compensate for that, we sometimes unearth information that isn’t even in the Official Results. For example, last year, we found out two missing divers in the 1960 women’s diving event, and an hitherto unknown substitute in the 1920 water polo match Brazil – Sweden.

So, it is with full confidence we can say that 128,420 is the wrong number. But we dare you to come up with a better one!

The unluckiest countries at the Olympics

We’ve written before about unlucky Olympians here on OlympStats – Olympic athletes who came closest to winning an Olympic medal, but never did. But which nations have come closest to winning an Olympic medal without actually doing so?

Erick Barrondo’s silver medal removed Guatemala from the list of “unluckiest” nations at the Olympics

Until 2012, the clear number one was Guatemala. The Central American nation had raked up three 4th places (including one in the art competitions), four 5th places (adding a fifth in London) and four more places between 6th and 8th. But race walker Erick Barrondo ended his country’s medal drought and became the first Guatemalteco win an Olympic medal with a silver medal in the 20 km.

Nan Aye Khine earned a 4th place for Myanmar (Burma), but was disqualified afterwards for steroid use.

With Guatemala out of contention, here are four nations that have finished 4th on one occasion. Of these nations, the one with the most 5th places is Myanmar, previously known as Burma. The South East Asian country is relatively strong in weightlifting and boxing. Win Kay Thi earned a 4th place in the 2000 women’s flyweight weightlifting, and two more weightlifters and two boxers have ranked 5th (or losing quarter-finalist) in the past. The nation lost another 4th place, achieved in 2004, when it was found that another female weightlifter, Nan Aye Khine, had used anabolic steroids.

Alessandra Perilli took a shot at the medals in London, but narrowly failed.

Behind Myanmar, the unluckiest nation is San Marino. The tiny enclave republic, embedded within Italy, had its best result in London. Trap shooter Alessandra Perilli was involved in a three-way shoot-off for silver and bronze, but missed her second shot and fell outside of the podium. Prior to Perilli, other Sanmarinese shooters had also come close to the prizes: Francesco Nanni was 5th in 1984 (small-bore rifle, prone), while trap shooters Emanuela Felici (twice) and Francesco Amici had earned 7th places.

Ibrahim Kamal (Jordan) lost the bronze medal match in his taekwondo event, but still achieved his country’s best ever Olympic performance.

Similarly close has been Jordan, which has placed 4th, 5th and 7th in taekwondo. Samoa is closing in on these countries:in London 2012, they earned a 6th and two 7th places (weightlifting and taekwondo), adding to a 4th place won in Beijing.