Tuesday, August 28, 2012
The Measurement of Success II
Some months back I wrote an article about what people define as “success” and how it is measured and compared (http://athenaeumelectronica.blogspot.com/2011/10/measurement-of-success.html). In the wake of the recently completed Summer Olympics I feel compelled to discuss this topic in a little more detail.
Don’t get me wrong. Let me start this discussion off by affirming that I love the concept of the Olympic Games. The entire world coming together peacefully in any endeavor, even for a short amount of time, is something worthwhile. But, the Olympics have left me feeling a little disenfranchised of late and it has almost everything to do with how they determine who is winning.
When it comes to the Olympics it seems like the only thing that matters is taking home the Gold. This system of measuring success seems to reinforce the idea of the old expression, “second place is just the first loser”. Has our culture our society really become so focused on taking first place that no other aspects of the sportsmanship involved in getting there matter?
After hearing of the events of the Women’s Epee semifinals I remain more convinced than ever that the sportsmanship of the games is lost. For those of you who missed this debacle (because NBC never aired it), the semi-final match between South Korea and Germany was close. With 1 second remaining on the clock the South Korean athlete was in the lead. All she had to do was not get touched for 1 second and she would go on to fight for the Gold Medal. She squared off with her opponent and they fought. They both scored a simultaneous hit, and then again. And then, 3 seconds later the German opponent scored a hit, and then the clock reached 0. What happened? The 15-year old boy that they had running the clock screwed up. By rights, the Korean fighter should have won this. The Judges knew it, the fighters knew it and the crowd knew it. The sportsmanlike thing to do would be for the German fighter to concede on the grounds that she only won because the host country had unqualified idiots running the clock, but she didn’t do that. Even after paying thousands of US dollars to contest the ruling the judges still ruled in favor of Germany. What happened to sports and personal honor?
The games themselves rank winning countries based one factor only; the number of Gold medals they have. When I was in high school I ran track and cross country. We were a team. Sure, we competed in individual events, but we were a team. There was a scoring system that they used to see which school won the overall meet. I don’t remember the exact details, but basically the people who finished in the top 5 places in any event earned points for their team. What if you did something like that for the Olympics?
Right now the top 10 leading countries are thus:
1. United States 46 Gold 104 Total
2. China 38 Gold 88 Total
3. Great Britain 29 Gold 65 Total
4. Russia 24 Gold 82 Total
5. South Korea 13 Gold 28 Total
6. Germany 11 Gold 44 Total
7. France 11 Gold 34 Total
8. Italy 8 Gold 28 total
9. Hungary 8 Gold 17 Total
10. Australia 7 Gold 35 Total
Now, I ask you, why should a country, like England, who scored 65 total medals, be beating a country, like Russia, that scored 17 more medals than they did? Or what about Korea, who scored 16 fewer medals than the country they beat? Supposed we switched to a point based system where each Gold medal was worth 5 points, each Silver Medal was 3 points and each Bronze Medal was 1 point. The final standing would be quite different.
Under that system the top 10 countries would be:
1. United States 346 points
2. China 294 points
3. Russia 230 points
4. Great Britain 215 points
5. Germany 126 points
6. France 100 points
7. South Korea 96 points
8. Australia 95 points
9. Japan 94 points
10. Italy 78 points
Under this system, Russia and Britain flip flop, Germany moves up to fifth, France moves up to 6th, South Korea drops to 7th, and Japan takes its place in the top 10 while Hungary is pushed out. To me, this type of system or something like it seems much more equitable, and it promotes teamwork and sportsmanship.
An even more radical suggestion, one blogger suggests breaking down the medal count by the country’s population density. He argues that the more people you have in your country, the higher the statistical probability that you may have an Olympic champion. It’s quite an interesting concept and one that completely turns the medal count table on its head. You can read about his ideas here: http://simon.forsyth.net/olympics.html
Maybe I’m old fashioned or naive to still have the belief that how you play the game is more important than how you place.