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

Friday, February 10, 2006

And We're Back

When I signed off at the end of the Athens Olympics, 17 months ago, I was not sure whether I'd do this again. Doing DFL was an incredible experience, but, surprisingly, an exhausting one. It also occurred to me that maybe the point had been made, and that covering last-place finishes at subsequent Olympics would be repetitive at best. On the other hand, friends and family urged me to do it again.

Eventually, though, I decided to do it again, for three reasons. One, it would give me an opportunity to cover the winter sports, many of which I'm kind of keen on -- I'm a lifelong recreational cross-country skier, for example. Two, with fewer events, fewer countries participating and concomitantly less media interest, it might well be a good deal less hectic to do -- I won't have nearly as many Brazilians after me for a Portuguese translation, for example. And three, it's not like I have anything better to do.

So here we are. Welcome back to DFL, the blog that covers last-place finishes at the Olympics.

For those of you unfamiliar with this site, here's what I'm doing.

During the course of the Olympics, I will be reporting on the last-place finish in each event (or, in each event for which a single last-place finish is possible). To qualify, it has to be a finish -- disqualifications, DNSes and DNFs are not eligible for this (admittedly dubious) honour.

Why am I doing this? For several reasons.

First and foremost, it's a real celebration of participation, that concept about which many of us sing platitudes but to which few of us assign any real value. Simply put, with very few exceptions, those who finish last at an Olympics are generally far better than the rest of us at their sport -- hence this site's tagline: "Because they're there, and you're not."

Second, as Matt pointed out when he posted DFL to MetaFilter last time (setting off the chain reaction that got this site noticed), and as others have noticed since, for athletes, it's a way of measuring themselves against the bare minimum competitive score at the Games. And vice versa. That's why I'm presenting the result -- the time, the score, whatever -- of each last-place finisher. Where possible, I will compare it against the gold-medal result, to give you a sense of how close the competition really was.

And third, it's a goof on the media's obsession on winning and winners, and on the mixed-up nationalistic attitude that equates a country's self-worth with the number of medals it wins at the Olympics (that means you, India). For that reason, I'll be tracking the number of last-place finishers per country. The country with the most last-place finishes at the end of the Games, erm, wins. Ties will be broken by the size of a country's athletic delegation, if possible -- i.e., a country with six last-place finishes but 40 athletes will finish "ahead" of a country with six last-place finishes but 80 athletes. This is a total goof, a satire, and should not be taken seriously, but boy was it ever taken seriously last time. (To recap, Greece won the final tally with 13 last-place finishes.)

Here's how it's going to work. Every day, I'll post the available last-place results and update the standings. The standings are available on the right sidebar; clicking on the link generates a pop-up window.

The opening ceremonies in Torino are still a few hours away, and the first results won't be available until tomorrow. I'll have a few administrative posts to make in the meantime, but have a look at the archives while you wait -- the complete posts from the Athens games are also available via the sidebar.

Like last time, in addition to the results, I'll also post your letters, links to stories about last-place finishes (and about DFL) in the media, and stories of previous last-place Olympic finishes.

I'm also interested in looking at the eligibility criteria this time: just how hard is it to get to the Olympics?

With any luck, I'll have a few surprises for you as well.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy the next couple of weeks.

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