Barring two upsets — Norway in curling and the U.S. in hockey — it appears as though Canada will finish the 2010 Winter Olympics not only with the most gold medals, but with the most gold medals ever won by a country at a winter Olympics.
Good for us. That’s a helluva an accomplishment and there are any number of athletes that have done us proud on their way to the top of the podium.
But we’re all journalists here, and the record for gold medals (if, as seems likely, achieved) needs to be put in perspective. As with all sports records, we need to do the math and make sure we’re comparing real numbers.
Let’s say Canada wins its record 14 gold medals. Those are from a total of 86 that were available, or just over 16 per cent, which isn’t a bad haul. Compare that to 2006 in Turin, where Germany won 11 gold medals from 83 sports: just over 13 per cent.
But in 2002 in Salt Lake City, Norway’s 13 gold medals (80 sports) also represented just over 16 per cent of the total. And, in 1998 in Nagano, Germany’s 12 gold medals (69 sports), meant they won over 17 per cent of the total.
The increase in the number of medals, makes it inevitable that new records for “most” will be set. And that’s the thing with records: we need to look behind the raw numbers to make sure we’re comparing like to like.
None of this lessens the accomplishments of my country-folk, of course. As journalists, we need to see the real story here and it isn’t in the raw numbers. It’s that Canada has moved into the top ranks of countries who compete in winter Olympics, and whose athletes stand atop the podium.
A small update: I forgot to cite my sources for the numbers. They all come from Wikipedia.