Olympic medal myth debunked by expert

Three medals or one gold? Depends on how you want to spin it. It turns out the Olympic medal count...

Three medals or one gold? Depends on how you want to spin it. It turns out the Olympic medal count is actually a media creation. (AFP)

QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 12:55 PM ET

There’s a good reason why national Olympic medal counts are so confusing — they don’t actually exist.

While the rankings-by-country draw endless attention from fans worldwide, the measurement was actually invented by the media about 100 years ago and isn’t officially tracked by the Olympic officials.

“The (International Olympic Committee) doesn’t recognize rankings by countries,” said Janice Forsyth, head of Western University’s Centre for Olympic Studies.

In fact, she notes, the IOC charter has a rule that insists athletes must compete as individuals — and a nation-by-nation medal count runs counter to that: Section six of the opening chapter states that the Games “are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries.”

While the Sochi Games website “engages” in the public fascination and posts the medal count, the IOC website includes no mention, Forsyth says.

And that helps explain the confusingly inconsistent medal counts — some ranking by most golds, others by total medals.

While most of the world’s media rank nations by most gold medals, American and Canadian outlets often use total medals, which Forsyth considers an effort to make their countries look good.

But even that is changing. Midway through the Vancouver Games, Forsyth says Canadian media that had been using total medals as its measuring stick switched to the gold standard as Canada’s haul piled up.

Even an entirely different measurement — such as assigning points to each colour medal, and coming up with a total for each country — would be no less official than what’s used now, Forsyth said.

“It would be weird for the public but it would prove your point — we could spin it any number of ways.”

A review of all-time Summer and Winter Games medal totals shows that two duelling ranking systems — by most golds, or by most total medals — produce essentially the same standings for top-tier countries. Here are the two duelling lists of Top 10:

MOST GOLDS

  • 1. U.S. 1,063
  • 2. Soviet Union 473
  • 3. Great Britain 245
  • 4. Germany 244
  • 5. Italy 235
  • 6. France 229
  • 7. China 210
  • 8. East Germany 192
  • 9. Sweden 101
  • 10. Russia 169
  • 16. Canada 111

TOTAL MEDALS

  • 1. U.S. 2,653
  • 2. Soviet Union 1,204
  • 3. Great Britain 802
  • 4. France 765
  • 5. Germany 763
  • 6. Italy 655
  • 7. Sweden 612
  • 8. East Germany 519
  • 9. China 517
  • 10. Russia 488
  • 16. Canada 425

Videos

Photos