I have solved the medal-table controversy irrefutably.
Is that total medals or gold medals, you ask. Popular vote or electoral college? Is this the 2000 presidential election all over again? Will there will need to be an emergency session of the Supreme Court to decide who the “winner” of the Olympics is.
Of course, there is no official winner. But the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ranks its medal table by gold medals. That means if someone had happened to win 300 silver and bronze medals and no golds here, it would have ended up being ranked 56th – behind Cameroon, which won a single gold in the women’s triple jump.
What, then, is the point of handing out three medals?
Then again, winning the actual event must count for something.
So here I give you the correct medal table:
1. China – 223
2. United States – 220
3. Russia – 139
4. Great Britain – 98
5. Australia – 89
6. Germany – 83
7. France – 70
8. Korea – 67
9. Italy – 54
10. Japan – 49
The secret math? Three points for a gold, 2 for a silver, 1 for a bronze.
Other crumbs of medal-table trivia:
* By the IOC’s ranking system, Michael Phelps would have finished 10th, one place ahead of France, had he been entered as a country.
* This is only the second time since World War I that two nations have split the gold medal and total medal lead. The other instance was in the 1964 Tokyo Games, when the US won 36 gold medals and 90 overall medals, while the Soviet Union won 30 gold medals and 96 overall medals.
* Compared with its results from Athens, China improved by 19 gold medals and 37 total medals. By far, the greatest increase came in gymnastics, going from one gold, zero silvers, and three bronzes (1-0-3) to 11-1-6 – a gain of 10 gold medals and 14 total medals. No other Chinese sport saw a gain of more than three total medals.
* China maintained or increased its medal totals from Athens in every sport but three. In each of these three, the decrease was only one. Fencing (from 0-3-0 in Athens to 1-1-0 in Beijing), judo (1-1-3 to 3-0-1), and shooting (4-2-3 to 5-2-1). In each, it increased its gold-medal total despite the decline in total medals.
* Fifty-one percent of China’s medals were gold. That is only the third time that more than half of overall leaders’ medals were gold. The others instances were the Soviets in 1972 and the Americans in 1952.
* Fifty-eight percent of American medals came from swimming (31), gymnastics (10), and track and field (23). After those three, America’s best sports by total medals were shooting and fencing, with six apiece.
* In no sport but swimming and track and field did the US win more than two gold medals. China won more than two gold medals in seven sports: badminton (3), diving (7), gymnastics (11), judo (3), shooting (5), table tennis (4), and weightlifting (8).
* There were six medal sweeps: three for the US (men’s 400 meter dash, men’s 400 meter hurdles, and women’s saber), two for China (men’s and women’s singles table tennis), and one for Jamaica (women’s 100 meter dash).
* Of the countries that won more than 10 medals, two won all their medals in one sport. Kenya’s 14 medals and Jamaica’s 11 medals all came in track and field.
* Of the countries that won more than 20 medals, none is more dependent on one sport than Australia: 20 of its 46 medals (43 percent) came from swimming.
* Eighty-seven countries won a medal, surpassing the record of 80, set in 2000.