Celebrating last-place finishes at the Olympics. Because they're there, and you're not.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Final Tally

Despite Romania's position atop the Torino 2006 last-place standings, I wouldn't read too much into it. This time, to my surprise, there was no runaway champion: both Japan and China also had six last-place finishes, but larger teams; Ukraine had five; South Korea, Poland, Latvia and Russia each had four. It was a close race, and if there is any meaning in the number of last-place finishes a country gets -- and for the record, I don't think there is; I'm just goofing around here -- the caveats and exceptions render it moot. Romania had two athletes with two last-place finishes, so only four of its athletes came last; Latvia, on the other hand, had its entire hockey team come last -- so, in a way, Latvia has more last-place finishers than Romania did. But then, we don't count medals by the physical number of shiny items around discrete athletic necks, but by event. At any rate, I hereby declare the results clear as mud -- and about as significant.

Another surprise, given the final tally at the Athens Games, is that Italy was nowhere near the top. As far as last-place finishes were concerned, Italy finished 21st with only two. As host country, I expected more from them -- the host country automatically qualifies for many events regardless of their World Cup rankings -- but as an Olympic team Italy was just too good.

Quite a few athletes had more than one last-place finish: Florentin-Daniel Nicolae and Daniela Oltean of Romania, Volodymyr Trachuk of Ukraine, Christelle Laura Douibi for Algeria, Veronica Isbej of Chile, and Sabahattin Oglago of Turkey. I chalk this up to the fact that in many disciplines, athletes are signed up for multiple events: many alpine skiers, for example, are registered in all five races, and the same goes for cross-country skiing, speed skating, biathlon and Lord knows what else. Simply put, there are more opportunities to come in last. And in many events, where DNFs sometimes outnumber the finishes, being able to come in last more than once means being able to finish more than once -- and that's apparently no mean feat.

A few countries had every athlete they sent come in last: Albania, Kyrgyzstan, Thailand. It would have been more, but thanks to the qualifying rules, very few events were open enough for countries without a serious winter sports tradition to send an athlete. For example, if most countries have sent their single athlete to the men's 15K or women's 10K classical, as appears to have been the case, then only one of them (obviously) can come in last. Phillip Boit and Prawat Nagvajara were in the same event, after all. When all the obvious candidates are crowded into the same race, you don't have the same results we did during the Summer Games in 2004, when half the countries on the planet had at least one last-place finish.

Speaking of which: some countries didn't have a last-place finish at all. What about Belarus, Canada, the Czech Republic, Norway, Finland or Slovakia? Very interesting that these larger teams -- particularly Canada's, which was huge -- didn't produce any DFLs. You'd expect it just on a statistical basis alone. But unsuccessful athletes at the Winter Olympics are more likely to DNF as DFL: so many elimination rounds, so many technical events where a crash or a missed gate means a DNF.

But in the end, what can I say? It's just a bit of satire: fun at the media's expense, a spoof on the medal race, which never made much sense to me and was given way too much importance in a venue where individual rather than national achievement ought, it seemed to me, to be paramount.

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  • At 8:13 PM, February 26, 2006 , Blogger RunDave said...

    Don't forget that although the home country gets automatic qualification to many events which you would think would result in substandard performances, the fact that the event is being held in their home country spurs many athletes on to performances above and beyond their previous ability.

  • At 11:48 PM, March 08, 2006 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    there are not multiple medal events in figure skating. Typically a person is only in one event be it singles, pairs or dance not all 3.

  • At 4:44 AM, March 09, 2006 , Blogger mcwetboy said...

    I meant speed skating, not figure skating. Fixed.


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