Because the consolation game in their sport was scheduled for hours after the USA Basketball men’s national team defeated France in the final, Kevin Durant and friends all had to wait a while before they could stand on the podium and hear the anthem played. It seemed hardly worth the effort when each was presented a tray to select a slice of metal representing roughly 8.3 percent of the single gold medal they’d won for the United States at the Tokyo Olympics. It was a shade embarrassing when they began arguing among themselves about which was worthy of receiving the end cut.
Yeah, that’s not what happened.
That’s not how it works at the Olympics, never has been.
So why is the world still keeping score that way?
So many have come to believe the RBI is a vacant statistic, but it’s Einstein’s theory of relativity compared to the Olympic medal standings. They’re ridiculous.
Instead, each U.S. men’s basketball player was able to select from a pile of a dozen gold medals and, like many winning teams, the U.S. men chose to place the medal around the neck of the adjacent teammate. Like their counterparts from the women’s basketball team, they left the Olympics with 12 gold medals. Not one. But in the medal counts widely distributed through the media, though, that is counted as one basketball gold for each gender.
One would think nearly two decades after “Moneyball” revolutionized how statistics are processed in sports, with analytics becoming one of the most important aspects of how nearly all athletic competitors pursue achievement, the Olympic medal counts should present a more accurate picture of the various competitions that took place over 19 days in Tokyo.
I’m no statistical genius. One of my favorite aspects of the Journalism & Communications major at Point Park University was the absence of a math requirement. But I can recognize when a basic set of numbers is telling a lie about sports. That is why, in 2008, I invented the DeCourcy Podium Count (DPC).
Why is it called that? Well, it was my idea. You’ve got the Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings, named after creator Ken Pomeroy. You’ve got the Beyer Speed Figures, named after Andrew Beyer, the longtime horse racing writer for the Washington Post. If someone wanted to borrow my idea and call it something else, I’d be fine with that so long as it became the standard by which the performance of nations at each edition of the Olympic Games are judged. I’m magnanimous that way.
The United States is listed in the medal count at Olympics.com as having accumulated 39 gold medals and 113 total medals, ahead of runner-up China in both categories (38 golds, 66 total). This is not even close to correct.
The DeCourcy Podium Count factors in how any athletes participated in each victory – specifically, how many were standing on the Olympic podium during the ceremony that followed each result. Using this more accurate accounting, the United States accumulated 99 gold medals and 252 total medals. China ended with 51 golds and 127 total medals). Host country Japan, in part because of its victories in softball and baseball actually outperformed China, winning 63 gold medals and 124 total.
It never has been reasonable to count as equivalent one gymnast doing two 90-second routines – qualifying and final – to 12 basketball players cooperating in six basketball games that last 40 minutes each. That is not to say that one sport is superior to another. It is to say that if one carves up its competition in a variety of ways and declares five individuals and one four-person team as winners, and another arranges its competition so that one 12-person team is the champion, then the one sport has minted nine gold-medal winners and the other 12.
It’s basic logic.
Oddly, the truth of the DPC is reflected in how the Olympic results are discussed. No one said about U.S. women’s basketball players Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird that each now has 41.67 percent of a full gold medal after playing for the winning team at five consecutive Games. No, each was described as having won five gold medals in her career, dating all the way back to the Athens games in 2004.
But when the final golds were awarded, the U.S. was described in media outlets from coast to coast as having edged China in the race for most gold medals.
In fact, it never was close, even though the U.S. success rate declined, for a second consecutive Olympiad. In Rio five years ago, the U.S. won 118 gold medals. The Americans were far off that figure in Tokyo, even if they could be described by DPC numbers as having dominated the competition overall.
It’s important to tell the truth in journalism. That’s why it’s long past time for the medal count to be replaced by the DeCourcy Podium Count. We all conquered third-grade math years ago.