Tuesday, August 7, 2012

An Olympic Way of Counting

The Australian team at the 2012 London Olympics has not lived up to the expectations created by past successes. For the first time in years there were ZERO individual gold medals in the pool and only ONE in a relay on the first night of competition. However, the team has won a lot of silver medals. At the time of writing Australia has a total 2 Gold, 12 Silver and 8 Bronze. This has prompted [attempted] witty newspaper headlines like: Is Silver the New Gold? or Going for Silver? Some wags have even kept track of how the Aussies are doing in the Silver Stakes, where "he with the most silver wins!". (For the record, the Aussies are tied with Japan and Great Britain for Equal 4th. Much better than the official 19th overall!)

Since Australia will never win the most medals of any colour, our media often does the simple math of dividing the population of each country by the number of medals. (See HERE for a 2012 example.) Then there's always some people who just have to take things to another level. Check out this crazy set of computations ranking the nations by wealth (GDP), population, and size of the olympic team.

But it's not just the Aussies that benefit from changing the way we measure success. The official Olympic medal count rankings are based on the number of GOLD medals a country has won. So South Africa is ranked higher than Australia because it has 3 Gold medals to Australia's 2. But, overall, Australia has 22 medals to South Africa's 4.

While the rest of the world ranks the teams by GOLD medals, the United States base their rankings on total medals. So Australia jumps 10 spots to 9th on the US medal table. Thanks USA! Now the cynic in me would say it's a tactic to keep the US at the top of the table longer. In Beijing 2008 the US had a total of 110 medals to China's 100 so topped all the US rankings. But China had a whopping 51 Gold medals to the United States 36 which gave China the overall win in the rest of the world.

Here's a little table I've created of the overall Olympic medal count since Sydney 2000.

Sydney 2000

Athens 2004

Gold Total

Gold Total
United States 37 94
United States 36 102
Russia 32 89
China 32 63
China 28 58
Russia 27 92
Australia 16 58
Australia 17 49
Germany 13 56
Japan 16 37
France 13 38

Beijing 2008

Gold Total

China 51 100

United States 36 110

Russia 23 73

Great Britain 19 47

Germany 16 41

Australia 14 46

Interestingly, in 2000 the sequence of both columns are identical. However, in 2004, Russia and Germany would have benefited from the US counting system. In 2008, USA is the most obvious beneficiary while Australia would also have climbed a spot on the US rankings.

You can track the 2012 official standings here and the United States rankings here.

I'm grateful that God has amended his way of counting also. We often think usually think of God as perfect and without flaws, but His counting skills are seriously compromised by His grace.  Check out these verses.

Happy are those whose actions outside the Law are forgiven,
        and whose sins are covered. 
 Happy are those whose sin isn’t counted against them by the Lord  Romans 4:7-8 (CEB)

God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation.     2 Corinthians 5:19

People often think of God as the ultimate counter who counting every little thing we do wrong. These verses remind us that when we're Christians God has a new way of counting. In fact, He stops counting in deference to the bigger picture. The bigger picture is that he wants to be family with us. Because of Jesus he now forgives our sins because he values reconciliation with us more than accuracy.

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