Thinking About Canada’s Performance in Beijing

We don’t have a TV, so I’ve hardly watched any Olympics. I’m surprised to say that I missed watching them a little. I’ve caught the highlights on the CBC’s website (live streaming still very dodgy on my MacBook), but that’s been it.

So, I have a lousy sense of Canada’s achievements at these games. They’ve won 19 medals, which sounds good, but how about a little context? How does 19 medals today compare to winning 19 medals in, say, 1968? How have the Olympics changed in the past 40 years?

I did some research on Wikipedia, and assembled this spreadsheet. In doing so, I learned some interesting stuff:

  • At the 2008 Olympics, Canada ended up ranking 19th in the medal standings. That’s its best performance since 1992, and (ignoring the heavily-boycotted 1984 Games) its second best performance in the last 40 years. The Canadian Olympic Committee had set a goal of a top-16 finish, which seems pretty unrealistic given history and the competition.
  • We can also look at the portion of the total medal pot that Canada won. They won 1.98% of these year’s medals.
  • I looked at some other factors, like how many medals Canada won per event or attending athlete, but I’m not sure that they’re germane.

I also discovered a couple of general Olympic stats:

  • Since 1968, the number of athletes attending the Games has doubled.
  • Since 1968, the number of events has increased by 76%, and the total number of events by 82%. I guess we can attribute the greater increase in athletes to new team sports or larger pools of qualifying athletes?

I know, I’m a big nerd. But I think we can celebrate Canada’s medal haul as a very good result. They’ve done better, but 2008 counts as above average.

To those who would accuse me of focusing too much on the medal count, I’d point you to this Globe and Mail article. In it, two-time gold medal winner and executive director of the Road to Excellence Alex Baumann talks about how much their emphasis is on winning, and funding those sports where Canadian athletes are likely to medal.


  1. I have a lousy sense of Canada’s achievements at these games.

    For once I’m not pulling that quote out of context to be silly, I’m pulling it out so I can say this:

    Olympic medals can and should be highly meaningful to the athletes who won them.

    The Olympics themselves are a hugely entertaining spectacle, and that’s great.

    But assuming that Olympic medalling is important to a or for a nation is a delusion that should be reserved for prestige-seeking dictatorships and crazyocracies (plus Australia).

    The rest of us can go back to things that really matter, like who Mats Sundin will sign with.

    (Sigh. I think that means I was being silly regardless. Back to the drawing board.)

  2. I remember watching the Atlanta Olympics regularly, but never bothered with Sydney, and was barely aware of the Athens games. I have to admit, I thought these games were awesome; the whole reason to own a PVR and a high def TV is for events like this. Really enjoyed it.

  3. One one hand I am very proud of our athelete’s performance in Beijing. One the other hand I am wondering why Canada’s medal haul way below other G8 countries or major economies of the world. We are not even in the top 12 in terms of the number of medals and in 19th place if you count only gold medals. Definitely there is something wrong here.

  4. Mexico only won three medals (2 gold 1 bronze) and to be truthful, I felt awful but I felt a little less bad when Mexico had 1 medal and Canada had zero (first week).

    Lack of funding is one of my beefs with competitive sports (having been a competitive volleyball player myself). The stories I’ve heard, I’ll share some with you at BarCamp.

  5. Canada was actually tied for 14th based on total number of medals, attaining the COC’s stated goal of a top-16 finish.

    @Bill W – I think Canada’s emphasis right now is clearly on the Winter Olympics, where I believe we have always performed relatively better. I would love to see similar historic stats for the Winter Olympics. Darren? ;o)

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