The Final Tally
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.