One thing that always amuses me during the Olympics is the nationalistic jingoism that is often displayed, mainly in an anti-USA manner by fans from other parts of the world. It can be silly, like saying ‘Chanting USA-USA is Nazi-like’ but Greek fans in Athens chanting ‘Hellas-Hellas’ is part of the Olympic spirit.” One other way it manifests itself is in the endless debate about the medal table.
I’ve spoken about this before during the medal debate in Beijing. There are two ways of counting medals by country at the Olympics. By the number of golds, then silvers, then bronze, or by the overall number of medals. The United States media generally reports on the overall number of medals, whereas most of the rest of the world reports on who has the highest number of gold medals. Thus a country with 1 gold would appear higher than a country with 6 silvers and 10 bronze medals in some tables. This has led to some countries like Russia criticizing the Gold First standard saying ‘how can a country with 12 medalists be said to have a ‘poorer’ Olympics than a country with just one medal?’ Some commentators have suggested a ‘points system‘ whereby a bronze is worth 1/5 of a Gold or something like that. Sounds very silly (it’s a British idea so yeah, it is very silly).
Officially–there is no ranking. The Olympic charter forbids it:
The IOC and the OCOG shall not draw up any global ranking per country. A roll of honour bearing the names of medal winners and those awarded diplomas in each event shall be established by the OCOG and the names of the medal winners shall be featured prominently and be on permanent display in the main stadium.
However, there is an unofficial ‘media alert’ that the IOC puts out that has the medal table in the order of Golds first. This started back around the 2000 Olympics and the IOC won’t comment on the debate because “officially, we don’t publish a table”. How bureaucratically convenient. UPDATE: It appears that the Vancouver 2010 committee has decided to publish their list in a ‘total medals’ format, but the European media continues to follow a Gold first standard.
Which is better? Who really cares. In the end it is about athletes and their own personal quests and sacrifices to become the best in the world. Some of them have help from nations, some do not. If you see someone arguing the point that one counting system is inherently better or worse than the other, than you have found someone worth ignoring for the rest of the Olympics.