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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 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.

Embed from Getty Images
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

Embed from Getty Images
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.

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, 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.

Events Starting Before the Opening Ceremony

Events started today at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, 1 day before the Opening Ceremony. This is not uncommon, and also occurred at Sochi in 2014.

Of the 23 Winter Olympics to date, including PC, 14 of them started on the day of, or after, the Opening Ceremony, and finished before or on the day of the Closing Ceremony. This happened consecutively from 1988-2010.

The first Winter Olympics at Chamonix in 1924 had its sporting events end the day before the Closing Ceremony, the only time that has happened.

In 1932, the events finished 2 days after the Closing Ceremony, because weather had caused postponement of events.

In 1964, 1968, and 1984, the events started 2 days before the Opening Ceremony. The events have started the day before the Opening Ceremony in 1976, 1980, 2014, and 2018.

100,000th Male Olympian – Summer and Winter

Following up on my previous post –

The start list for men’s normal hill ski jumping qualifying round tonite has been announced. Assuming everyone starts, the 16th jumper will be the 11th new Olympian starting tonite, and will become the 100,000th male Olympian of all-time – summer and winter.

And that 16th jumper and the winner is @Casey16Larson – Casey Larson of @TeamUSA. Tell ’em what he’s won, Don Pardo!

20,000 Winter Olympians and 100,000 Male Olympians

There are about 2,950 athletes entered here in PyeongChang (PC). Of these 1,689 have never before competed at an Olympic Games.

This brings the total number of Olympians (since 1896) over a few landmarks. The following now assumes that all 1,689 new Olympians will compete in PC, which is probably not exactly the case.

The number of Winter Olympians will now top 20,000 for the first time, reaching about 20,705. So some new Olympian in PC will become the 20,000th Winter Olympian – who will it be? Actually, it will be very hard to say, because to date, there have currently been 19,016 Winter Olympians through 2014. So of the 1,014 new Winter Olympians likely to compete, it will be the 984th to enter the start gate. If you’d like to try to track that let us know.

Further the number of male Olympians, summer and winter, will top 100,000 for the first time, likely reaching about 100,997 if all 1,014 new male Olympians compete in PC. This is trackable and it will likely be possible to determine who is the 100,000th male Olympian. To date, there have been 99,983 male Olympians, so the 17th new male competitor to get to the starting line will be the 100,000th male Olympian.

Who will that be? This morning there were 4 mixed doubles curling matches, with 8 men competing. Six of those 8 men are new Olympians, bringing us to 99,989 male Olympians all-time, as of noontime, PyeongChang time..

Men’s normal hill ski jump qualifying takes place tonite. There will likely be 60 competitors (62 at Sochi in this event phase), and of those, about 20 will be new Olympians – as I write this the start list as not yet been announced.

The 11th new Olympian in the men’s normal hill ski jump qualifying tonite will become the 100,000th male Olympian. That should be relatively easy to determine as the ski jumpers go off one at a time. Once I get that start list, I’ll update this.