Skip to main content

Grenada's Kirani James celebrates after winning the men's 400m final at the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium August 6, 2012.DYLAN MARTINEZ/Reuters

Forget the intense Sino-American medal race. That's just an old-fashioned "first-past-the-post" way of determining victory.

What medal-starved nationalists need is a new, self-serving means of counting.

In an Olympics where subjective calls on everything from soccer fouls to trampoline tumbles picks the winners and relegates the losers, the tally of which country boasts the best depends on who's counting.

Down under, they are counting recriminations in Australia after stunning under-performance in the pool while in nearby – and smaller – New Zealand fans are trumpeting a huge medal haul as "Citius, Altius, Fortius, Capitarius."

By the measure of medals per population, the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada – previously famous primarily for being invaded in 1983 by U.S. troops on Ronald Reagan's orders – is running away with the 2012 Summer Games. Kirani James' gold medal win in the 400 metres vaulted Grenada to first place in the alternative ranking created by the statistical agency of the New Zealand government.

Grenada, with a single medal for total population of 109,000, is in top spot. In second – you guessed it – is New Zealand in total medals per million inhabitants. Jamaica, Slovenia and Denmark round out the top five. Despite the gloom in Australia, it's the only nation with a population of more than 20-million to crack the top ten in the per-capita count.

In medals per capita, Canada ranks 31, between Romania and Singapore but comfortably ahead of the United States in 40th place and China in 60th. (All results are as of the end of competition, Wednesday August 8.)

India, with the world's second-largest population of 1.2-billion, no golds, and a total haul of only four medals ranks first in futility – fewest medals per million population – among nations that have won any at all. Scores of nations, most of them small, have yet to win anything.

But alternative counting provides scant comfort to some nations.

Austria (which, like Canada, performs far better in the winter Olympics) is on course to set a new record for failure, irrespective of the counting method.

"With no medals, Austria faces the biggest Olympics bust in history," said the newspaper Oesterreich. Not since the 1964 Tokyo games have Austrian athletes failed to mount the podium in a summer Olympics.

The British team is delivering stellar performance – currently ranked third overall behind China and the United States in the standard ranking – and achieving the best per-capita results among all big nations (those with more than 30-million). Host countries traditionally outperform.

(Trivia question: name the only host nation ever to fail to win a single gold?)

Meanwhile, with the Soviet Union kaput, the old Cold War competition over whether communism or capitalism delivered more Olympic glory had faded. Instead, Sino-American jostling for top spot has dominated recent games.

"While this new rivalry will never reach the heights of the U.S.-Soviet Union during the Cold War, Beijing and Washington will be sparring for Olympic supremacy for years to come," Robert Cobb noted on The United States, after a strong track showing, is ahead in the total medal count, but China is ahead in golds. China was clearly ahead in week one, re-kindling a nasty debate about whether subjective judging sports shouldn't count.

According to Yahoo's Fourth-Place Medal blog, the 'real' medal count has the United States on top by eliminating several sports where China is a powerhouse.

"When you factor out all the judging nonsense in gymnastics, diving, trampoline and judo," Team USA is the decisive winner both in golds and total medals. "It wouldn't be so insulting if we weren't the rubes who accept it like it's real. Gymnastics wins aren't victories, they're subjective decisions," opined Fourth Place.

Perhaps, although that criteria would strip Canada of its only London 2012 gold so far, putting the country on par with the 1976 Montreal Olympics when Canada won no golds – the only host country holder of that sad record.

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct