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

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

DFL on Hiatus

I'm sorry to announce that I will not be blogging the 2010 Winter Olympics on DFL.

For the most part, however, I've already said what needs saying about how hard athletes have to work to make it to the Olympics, and how good you have to be to finish even in last place at the Games. If I do say so myself, there are some awfully good entries in DFL's archives. You could do worse than reread some of them. (See the sidebar for some featured entries and archived entries by date.)

Thank you for your interest in this site, and in the gutsy athletes who finish at the back of the pack -- but still finish.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Standings Page

Because it would be complicated otherwise, the complete last-place standings now have their own separate page. The "top" ten countries for the last three Olympics -- i.e., the ones I've been covering -- are still on the sidebar. To refresh your memory if you've been here before, or to explain this if you haven't: ties are broken by the size of athletes' delegations, my source for which is Yahoo's Olympics site.


Friday, August 08, 2008

DFL 2.0

A couple of features new to DFL this time around. First, this blog now has a page on Facebook, so if you're on Facebook, why not visit, become a fan, and say hello. And second, I'm using Twitter to post short and pithy observations about the Olympics, not necessarily about last-place finishes; I'll be using it, for example, to provide a running commentary on the opening ceremonies, which are imminent. If you're a Twitter user, feel free to follow the DFL account; the most recent Twitter posts ("tweets") will be on the sidebar as well.

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Let the Games Begin

It's likely that if you're reading this blog entry within a day or two of my posting it, you're probably familiar with DFL and its purposes and methods. If so, welcome back: all you really need to know is that DFL is back for the 2008 Beijing Games.

If, on the other hand, you're new to this blog, a little explanation might be in order.

DFL is a blog that celebrates participation in a smartassed way, by chronicling the results of the Olympic athletes who come in last place in their events. The premise is simple: that anyone capable of making it to the Olympics is deserving of our respect and praise; that anyone competing at the Games is almost certainly better at their sport than anyone who isn't at the Games; and that even a last-place finish at the Olympics is an impressive achievement -- because it's the Olympics.

Here's how it works. I report on the last-place finishes in every event, except for those events in which a last-place finish is not possible. (In boxing, for example, you might have 16 boxers eliminated in the first round; there's no way to figure out which of them is in last place.) When I give the last-place result, I will frequently compare it to the gold medallist's result, to give you a sense of the spread. Many readers have noticed how competitive the field really is, and have noted in specific cases that a last-place result would have blown away the competition at any weekend track meet.

An important point is that an athlete must finish to qualify as a DFL -- disqualifications, DNSes and DNFs are not eligible for this (admittedly dubious) honour. A DFL is different from a DNF: it's the worst mark on the board, but it is, at the very least, a mark on the board.

DFL's tone is irreverent -- DFL, after all, stands for "dead fucking last" (it's athletes' slang) -- but my purpose is not to mock last-place finishers. I'm often asked what Olympic athletes think of this blog. To be honest, I've never heard from one, but I can't imagine anyone actually enjoying being mentioned here. Nobody goes to the Olympics planning to come in last. But in almost every competition, someone has to.

No, I target those who feel humiliated or expect an apology when their country's athletes don't perform up to their standards. I don't like it when people take their national insecurities out on their athletes.

And I really don't like the nationalist bullshit that is the medals race, where something is being measured, but it isn't athletes' performance. Which is why I satirize it with standings of my own, by tabulating the number of last-place finishers by country. The country with the most last-place finishes at the end of the Games "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.

The point here is to take the piss out of the medals race by providing its opposite, but there has been a tendency, during the past two Olympics, to take it a little too seriously, as though the fact that Greece had the most DFLs in 2004 and Romania had the most in 2006 actually mean something. The fact is, the medal standings don't mean anything either. Each race, each competition, each sport is sui generis.

There's always a story in every last-place finish. For the most part, it's pretty mundane: in a relatively evenly matched field, someone was just a few seconds -- or even a few tenths of a second -- slower than everyone else. Sometimes a last-place finish is the result of an accident or bad luck, and sometimes it leads to a tremendous expression of character: the triathlete who grabs his bike and jogs to the finish line; the alpine skier who skis back to redo a missed gate. As I argued during the 2006 Torino Winter Games, "there's something important being expressed whenever somebody crosses the line after hitting the ground, long after everyone else has finished."

And, yes, sometimes it's that loveable goofball in the mold of Eric the Eel or Eddie the Eagle that the media craves. Now that the IOC and national Olympic committees have cracked down on noncompetitive competitors, there aren't as many characters as there used to be. But the stereotype persists, to the detriment of everyone else who comes in last.

There are, in other words, a lot of different kinds of last place finishes; DFL looks at them all.

It'll be about a day before the first results come in; while you wait, why not peruse the archives from the 2004 Athens Games and the 2006 Torino Winter Games? (Daily archives are available via the calendar on the sidebar.) I also have a few other items for you that I'm working on, plus some housekeeping items that I should have wrapped up by the weekend.

Thanks for stopping by. Let the Games begin!

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Media Inquiries

Because I used to be a reporter myself, and know what it's like (deadlines, editors and all that), I try to be as helpful as I can when a reporter or producer contacts me about doing a story on one of my web projects.

But things got a little hairy here during the Athens Games. I was getting 5-10 media requests a day, and I wasn't prepared for the onslaught. Because I didn't have my contact info in plain view, reporters and producers had to scramble to reach me -- for example, contacting the town hall and the local newspaper (the latter being a bad idea, since I used to work there and left under unpleasant circumstances; they were not inclined to be helpful). I was even getting phone calls from reporters before I was out of bed.

I don't expect things to be nearly as nuts this time around, but just in case, I've done a few things to try to make it easier on everyone.

First of all, I've promised myself that I will not go crazy trying to respond to every media request. Sorry, but I need a life -- and, yes, time to work on this site and elsewhere. I'll probably limit myself to not more than one or two media requests per day. Please understand if I decline -- and I'll try to decline promptly, rather than leave you wondering.

And second, I've updated my contact page to include a special e-mail form for media inquiries. It includes information I need to know -- like what kind of interview you need for me (live or not), what kind of media you work for (print, radio, TV, etc.) and how quickly you need to hear back from me. This allows me to perform triage on the spot: for example, if I'm overwhelmed with work and you need a response from me immediately, then I know I can decline immediately, but if it's less urgent I can fit you in a little later. So, if you're a reporter or producer, use the contact page if you'd like to get a hold of me. Then we'll see.

Update (Feb. 20): For background information, you should look at some earlier posts. From 2004, see Welcome to DFL, A DFL Primer, Reuters, Lovable Losers and a Rant About the Media and DFL Media Roundup. From 2006, see And We're Back and the FAQ. These pages may address some of your questions and, more generally, shed some light on what I'm doing here.

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Holy Crap, I'm Podcasting!

Because I haven't fully explored all the ways I can make a total ass of myself, I've decided to do a daily podcast of the last-place results. Allow me to present the DFL Daily Podcast, featuring yours truly. I've uploaded two episodes so far, and I'll try to post a new one each evening over the course of the Torino Winter Games. Each episode is five or six minutes long.

While you can listen to the podcast via the podcast home page, most people will probably want to subscribe to it in iTunes; you can subscribe to it in other podcasting services (such as Odeo) as well. You'll probably need QuickTime 7 to listen to it, because the files are in AAC format; if you're on Windows and you've got a recent version of iTunes, you're fine. (If you're not sure what the hell all this podcasting nonsense is, see Apple's page about podcasts.)

Hope this works; hope you like.

Update, Feb. 15: Holy crap, I seriously underestimated how much time it would take to create a five-minute podcast every day. To preserve my sanity, and prevent podcasting from squeezing out my other projects (like this blog), I've decided to stop the DFL podcast. An interesting experience, to say the least, but I just don't have enough hours in the day to pull it off at this point.

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Site Outage

A server issue at my suddenly less-wonderful hosting company, DreamHost, rendered all my web sites, including DFL, unavailable since, I think, about 8 AM UTC -- about 3 AM for me and midnight for DreamHost. (The issue was similar to this one.) I'm glad to have this site back up and running, but boy was I spitting nails in the meantime.


Saturday, February 11, 2006

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some questions about DFL that I received during the Athens Games. I thought it'd be useful to present them here along with my answers for future reference. I'll add to this list as more questions present themselves during the Torino Games.

What does DFL stand for?
Good question. It's athlete's slang for coming in last. The D stands for "dead", the L stands for "last", and the F is, well, obvious.

The athlete numbers you're using in the standings aren't right. You say there's this many athletes from my country, and I know that's wrong.
Finding the correct size of each country's delegation has been a bit of a challenge. At the Athens Games, I started by using numbers I pulled from the official site, but readers pointed out that those numbers were no good. Per someone's suggestion, I opted to use numbers from the Yahoo! Sports page, and for Torino I'll do that again. Sizes of Olympic delegations are taken from this Yahoo! Sports Athletes page. They may not be perfect -- for example, the Canadian delegation size on that page does not match the numbers given by the CBC during Opening Ceremonies coverage -- but they'll have to do.

What about team sports? You're using athlete delegations to rank the last-place country results, but if a team finishes last, it only counts as one last-place finish.
A gold-medal team may get 25 individual medals, but it only counts as a single medal in the country standings, so I'll adopt that practice for the last-place finishes as well. It's also much simpler for me.

Shouldn't you adjust for larger countries or larger delegations?
Someone with more math skills could take up that challenge, but I don't think it's germane. I address this to some extent by breaking ties by athlete delegation size: a country with fewer athletes finishes "ahead" of a country with more athletes but the same number of last places.

Should qualifying heats really count?
Events with heats are more complicated than timed events that run just once (like downhill skiing, speed skating or the marathon). I've decided to report the slowest time recorded in the event, regardless of whether it was posted in the heats, semis or finals -- usually, it will be posted in the heats. It's hard for me to argue that someone who finished last in the finals should get a DFL over someone who posted a slower time in the heats.

It seems crazy to award the DFL to someone who finishes an event when there are other athletes who couldn't even manage to finish!
Not when you consider what DFL means. "Better DFL than DNF," someone once told me -- the implication being that it's better to finish last, so long as you finish. Those that came last were at least able to put a mark on the board -- a mark that we can compare ourselves (and the gold-medal winner's results) against. We're celebrating the last-place finish, not searching for the athlete most deserving of our derision.

New answers posted February 20:

Where did you get the idea for DFL?
While watching the Athens Games in 2004, it suddenly occurred to me that it would be a neat idea -- in an off-kilter sense -- to chronicle all the last-place finishers in each event. The rationale for that came quickly, and is all over this site today. But what really made the idea take off was my girlfriend Jennifer telling me about the acronym "DFL" and what it stood for; she and her teammates had used it frequently during lifeguarding competitions. When I found out about that, the project caught fire -- sometimes all something needs is a great title.

Will you be doing this again?
I'm not sure. I wasn't sure, at the end of the 2004 Olympics, whether I'd be back for 2006. It's a big job that takes me away from my other projects, even if it's only for two weeks every two years. The Summer Games are also much bigger than the Winter Games. It's also clear that at some stage the point I'm trying to make about last-place finishes will have been made, and this blog will start getting repetitive. I outlined the reasons for doing it again for Torino; if I have the time, energy and motivation to do it again for Beijing, Vancouver or London, I may. But I'm taking this one Olympics at a time.


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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Tuesday, August 24, 2004

A DFL Primer

Until DFL was posted to MetaFilter Sunday night, I was working in near-complete obscurity. But now the cat's out of the bag, and you're coming by the thousand, whether from MetaFilter, elsewhere on the web, or, so I'm told, Tuesday's edition of the National Post. Since you likely haven't read my opening entry (and you should, because it sets out the philosophy of this project), let me recap what I'm trying to do here.

I'm keeping track of last-place finishers in as many events at the 2004 Athens Games as I can. They have to finish: DNFs, DNSes, DQs and NMs don't count here. I give the last-place result and compare it to the winning result in the final if it's meaningful. I never mention the gold medallist's name here -- they get enough press.

I'm also only recording events where a last-place finisher is reasonably possible to figure out. In certain events, you might have 16 people knocked out in the first round, and it would be all but impossible to figure out who came last of all. That means that I haven't been covering badminton, boxing, fencing, judo, table tennis, tennis or wrestling (so far). I'm also having trouble figuring out gymnastics.

If I've made a mistake in interpreting the results -- and boy, I know I've made several already -- and you can straighten me out, drop me a line or point it out in the entry's comments.

If you're looking for a specific event, here's how I've organized the site. The archives (see the sidebar on the right) are organized by day, and each post has an individual page as well, where comments can be left. I try to post the results either on the same day or the next; sometimes I'm late. Even if I have to go to the preliminary heats to find the last-place finisher, I wait until the finals are done.

The standings table (at right) gets updated a little while after the most recent post; it's coded by hand so it takes me a few minutes to do. Each country gets one point per last-place finish. Ties are broken by the size of the countries' Olympic delegations: it's much more impressive for two of four athletes to finish last than two of four hundred athletes. It's not meant to be taken too seriously, anyway.

Finally, I've also been posting links to stories about (or relevant to) last-place finishers. They're interesting reading, and I'm afraid they'll get lost as they drop off the front page, so here they are again.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Another Change in the Standings

I've decided to break ties by factoring in the size of the countries' Olympic delegations: it's much more impressive, for example, that one athlete out of seven finishes last (as with Rwanda so far) than if one athlete out of more than nine hundred finishes last (as with France or Germany so far). Algeria, with a delegation of 80 athletes, drops to 18th place.

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Sunday, August 15, 2004

Welcome to DFL

The idea for DFL only popped into my head an hour or two ago, and this blog will only last until the end of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens -- two weeks from today. In the meantime, it will do something that will be seen as quirky by some and cruel by others: it will report the last-place finisher in as many Olympic events as possible.

Some sports won't be possible to do here. Boxing and judo, for example, don't rank those eliminated in the same round: there can be 16 eliminees in the round of 32, for example.

But why do this, except to be a global prick?

Okay, that's part of it. But it's also to celebrate participation -- which gets too much short shrift at the Games, except with novelty acts like Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards and the Jamaican bobsled team at the 1988 Calgary Games -- instead of complete and utter triumph. Triumph is sexy, but participation is brave. And therein lies a tale.

I'm no athlete myself. In junior high, though -- before Osgood-Schlatter Disease put an end to my nascent track career -- I tried my hand at distance running. I entered my school's track meet and ran the 1,500 metres -- and trailed badly. In fact, I was lapped before the finish. One of my fellow students was laughing at me. But my gym teacher, hearing him, went up to him and said, "I don't see you running out there." And the kid, whose identity I never found out (I heard the story afterword from my teacher), began to cheer.

Remember that about the last-place finishers at these Olympics. They finished last, but at least they're there. And we're not.

(A final technical note: I'll be recording last place finishers. Disqualifications and DNFs don't count.)

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