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

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Stories from the Back of the Pack

Every last-place finish has a story. Here are a few from the Beijing Games:

Brazilian cyclist Luciano Pagliarini was suffering from kidney stones.

British diver Blake Aldridge blamed his synchronized diving partner, 14-year-old Tom Daley, for their last-place finish after Daley "popped off" on Aldridge for talking to his mother on his cellphone during the competition.

South African kayaker Sibonso Cele capsized his canoe and missed a gate in his first run, but put in a clean run the second time around.

Hiroshi Hoketsu's horse was apparently discombobulated by a passing airplane.

Italian cyclist Roberto Chiappa was relegated for elbowing Japan's Kiyofumi Nagai during the race.

Homa Hosseini, last in women's single sculls, is one of several groundbreaking female athletes from Iran.

Colin Jenkins acted as fellow Canadian (and eventual silver medallist) Simon Whitfield's "bodyguard" in the men's triathlon.

If you haven't heard any of these stories, I'm not surprised. Last-place finishers only make the news in their home countries, their hometown papers expressing their sympathy while their national media whines about lost medals. Sometimes not even then.

The only times a last-place finish generates international attention is when it's relevant to a national team's chances ("We would have lost except for ...") or truly spectacular in its own right. Usually that's the kind of media coverage no one wants.

It's part of a larger problem: media coverage can be so overwhelmingly focused on the home team that the big picture is missed. Events in which your country has no chance are ignored. Gold medallists from other countries are only shown to explain why your country's competitor came in 12th (this actually happened with the CBC's coverage of the men's hammer throw). And you'll almost never hear someone else's anthem played at the podium.

I was surprised to spend so much time blogging about the ugly nationalistic side of the Olympics in this round of DFL. The 2008 version of this blog has been the angry DFL, wherein I fulminate against the media, national Olympic committees, the IOC, and the general public for their obsession with medals and their tendency to blame athletes for failing to bring back the shiny knick-knacks and making their whole country look bad.

Each edition of DFL has been different: the 2004 version was the funny DFL, in which I navigated a narrow course between cracking wise and not doing so at the athletes' expense; the 2006 version was the earnest DFL, where I focused on injury, grit and character, and how hard it was to get to the Games. By the end of this run, I'm running out of things to say. Apart from reporting the results, I find myself more or less filling in the corners.

And fewer of you are reading it each time. Only half as many of you have visited this time around as you did during the 2006 Torino Games, and one-tenth as many as during the 2004 Athens Games. I'm not bothered; I ought to have done something to, you know, promote this site if I were. The fact that the media ignored DFL this time around -- which made my life a little less crazy, despite some health problems I've had during this run -- means two things: one, my point has been made -- though if the case of Stany the Stingray is any indication, the media has largely ignored that point. And two, my 15 minutes are up. I'm content.

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The Final Tally

As Greece did when it hosted the 2004 Olympics, China has won the DFL race. With 14 last-place finishes in the sports I was able to award them in,1 they had six more than the nearest competition, Canada. This is the post in which I explain what this all means.

First, it means nothing. Despite what I predicted, the DFL race has nothing to do with a country's athletic strength. China may have had more last-place finishes than anyone else, but, with 51 gold medals, they also had more first-place finishes than anyone else.

Which brings me to my second point: large delegations lead the last-place standings. With the top 13 countries having at least four last-place finishes, a country with only three athletes will obviously not crack the top 10. The smallest delegation in the top 10 was Egypt's, with 104 athletes; the smallest in the top 20 was Honduras's, with 28. But the top five were either above 300 athletes or within 20 of that number. Small delegations did have some interesting results, though: São Tomé and Príncipe had three athletes and two DFLs; the Cook Islands, San Marino, the British Virgin Islands and Somalia had a 50 percent DFL rate with only two or three athletes. But, as I argued four years ago, better that these countries send athletes to come in last than not send any athletes at all.

Then there's the African team disadvantage: in team sports with continental qualifiers, there will usually be a spot reserved for Africa, which for any number of reasons is not as competitive. The end result is that countries like Angola, Egypt or Mali just get killed in competitions like basketball, field hockey, water polo, and the relay events in swimming and track -- and that runs up the numbers at the end.

Finally, the most significant factor: the home team disadvantage. It didn't occur in the 2006 Winter Games, but they're different. But in the Summer Games it's as close to an iron law as you can get. Greece got 13 DFLs in 2004, but only one this time around. Their team was also less than one-third the size. China's team, on the other hand, went from six to 14 DFLs, and its team grew by half. This is because the home team gets a berth in every event, including events for which that country would not normally qualify. Because they wouldn't normally qualify, they get clobbered.

China didn't put away the DFL title until this weekend, when it DFLed in men's handball, baseball, the men's 4×400 relay, and two kayaking events. The following graph shows the progression of last-place finishes over the course of the Olympics for the top five countries:

Now for some more visualizations. Google Spreadsheets does heat maps. Here's a heat map of the last-place finishes by country:

This is an imperfect representation, of course: it doesn't take into account population, GDP or size of athletic delegation, all of which would be useful in evaluating the meaningfulness of a big pile of last-place finishes. Maybe someone can do some math. But the biggest problem is that this map is too darn small. Fortunately, Google Spreadsheets's map widget can zoom in a bit as well.




The Middle East:

South America:

(Something's not right, because Britain should be the same colour as Italy and Japan. Oh well.)

But, as I've said before (2004, 2006), with limited success, none of this actually means anything. Which is precisely my point about the medal race.

1 Sports not covered: badminton, beach volleyball, boxing, fencing, gymnastics (individual events), judo, table tennis, taekwondo, tennis, and wrestling.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

My Predictions!

If the media had been paying attention to this blog at the start of the Games, they would have asked me for my predictions. They weren't, but in case they rediscover this blog again, here are my predictions, all ready to go for them. Now I won't have to talk to them.

You may absolutely rely on these. There is no chance that they won't come true.

The weakest comprehensive team will have the most DFLs, rather than a small country with only a few athletes. By which I mean a country with a large delegation entered in many events. The most likely candidate is the host country, which gets to enter events they might not otherwise qualify for, but this isn't always the case: Greece -- the host country -- had the most in 2004; Romania -- not the host country -- "won" in 2006.

Blogger will have at least one major outage, causing me to pull out one-third of my hair.

The media will make a story out of the last-place finisher in the marathon, in an attempt to find the next John Stephen Akhwari or Pyambu Tuul, even if the athlete himself is completely ordinary and has no compelling story.

The Canadian media will bemoan their team's lack of medals, and will blame the lack of government funding.

My hosting provider will have at least one major outage, causing me to pull out one-third of my hair.

At least one major American athlete will fail to live up to the hype. The rest of the world will generate enough Schadenfreude to power a small city for a year.

The Indian media will bemoan their team's lack of medals, and feel sorry about themselves.

My ISP will have at least one major outage, causing me to pull out one-third of my hair.

Someone will finish last in a way we've never seen before -- a way that will amaze and impress the hell out of us.

I'll save $12 on a haircut.

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

A Final Thought

When I first started this blog in August 2004, it was on the premise that by and large athletes who make it to the Olympics are very good at what they do, and even those who come in last are better than the rest of us and as such deserve our admiration.

But for this to be true, it can't be easy to get to the Olympics.

Once upon a time, it was much easier to get to the Games, at least for some. A Haitian athlete ran the 10,000-metre race in 42 minutes at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. No doubt there were other examples of athletes coming to the Games who were nowhere in the same league.

Then came Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards. During one interview I said I had a problem with him, but, truth be told, there was nothing wrong with Edwards, his attitude or his desire to participate. His heart was in the right place. But he shouldn't have been at the Olympics. Other ski jumpers complained that he was making a mockery of the sport. (More likely: they were upset that he was getting all the attention while they trained for years in almost complete obscurity.) The problem wasn't him, it was us; but it was still a problem.

However much we loved the stories of Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards, Eric "the Eel" Moussambani, or the Jamaican bobsledders, they helped reinforce an image of last-place finishers at the Olympics that was unfair to everyone else. Almost every time I was interviewed by a reporter, it was stories like these that they were looking for. These stories make for great copy, but they're in no way representative, and in some ways the distortion they generate can be harmful.

Imagine you're an athlete who's been training at your sport for years. Finally, you manage to make it to the Olympics. You compete, and, for whatever reason -- you're a few seconds behind, or you're fighting the flu, or the wax on your skis wasn't right, or you plain goofed for the first time in years -- you end up in last place. You're in the elite in your field; you've put your life into this sport. And now you're going to get lumped in the same category with a guy who nearly drowned in the pool.

The problem with Edwards, Moussambani and other "novelty acts" (as I've called them) is that they made getting to the Olympics look easy, and coming in last a joke. They made it easier for us to devalue participation.

So now it's harder to get to the Games. In some sports there are hard quotas. Even in the most accessible sports at the Winter Games -- alpine and cross-country skiing -- the basic quota that allows one athlete from each sex to participate still necessitates that they compete in the World Cup circuit. You don't have to be competitive, necessarily, but you do have to be a bona fide competitor.

Some might argue that, in keeping Eddie the Eagle away from the Games, something wonderful has been lost. That may be true: there's something to be said about a narrative of someone gamely, but hopelessly, giving it his best shot. But on the other hand, if we want to say that making it to the Olympics is meaningful, and that even last-place finishers have nothing to be ashamed of, then we have to make it hard to get there.

That's essentially what the IOC has done, and it's why my coverage of last-place finishers over two Olympics has featured accidents, injuries, and occasional great stories, but very little in the way of giving my readers someone to laugh at. Which was the point.

This wraps up my coverage of the last-place finishes at the Torino Winter Olympics. I hope you enjoyed it.

(For previous essays of this sort from the Torino Olympics, see All Fall Down and The Hard Bigotry of High Expectations. For day-by-day coverage, other features and older material from the 2004 Athens Olympics, see the calendar on the right-hand side of this page.)

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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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Expatriate Games

A trend revealed by the last-place results is the number of expatriates competing for their mother countries. Not all of them came in last, but enough of them did that I noticed. Algeria, Argentina and Thailand, all of whom have small teams (two, nine and one, respectively) owe all of their last-place finishes to competitors who live in other countries. On one level, having an athlete live abroad is a common enough occurrence: many athletes must train far from home due to a lack of facilities, or are studying abroad; several compete for other countries for various reasons, and some of them end up on the podium.

But some cases are different. Argentina's last-placers, for example, are American citizens: Michelle Despain, last in the women's luge, has dual citizenship; Clyde Getty, in aerials, has a parental connection to the country. It's a fairly safe bet that in these and other cases, it would be harder to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team (or the French team, or the Canadian team) than it was to meet the basic Olympic standard -- particularly in events where there are spots reserved for each continent, like the sledding events, or a basic quota to allow competitors from noncompetitive countries, such as alpine and cross-country skiing.

I'm not going to fault the athletes for wanting to attend or for seizing the opportunity; indeed, I think it's a courageous thing to do. But it does seem that a loophole is being exploited. Sending expatriates isn't much of a substitute for a decent domestic sport program; their success (or, in my line of work, their lack of it) doesn't reflect much one way or the other on the home country, I think.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

All Fall Down

I'm not the only one to notice the sheer number of crashes, collisions and falls at these games, but I bet my take on it is a bit different.

When I talk to the media, they invariably ask me if there are any trends, or if there's any particular last-place finish, that stands out this time. Until the farce with the Austrian ski team over the weekend (reported here and here), I had trouble coming up with an answer -- particularly the kind of answer I suspect they were looking for: something off-beat, something weird. A last-place finish where you could laugh, a bit, at the circumstances if not at the athlete involved, or be blown away by what had to be endured -- something akin to a guy disrupting a diving event by jumping into the pool with advertising on his chest, diving with a stress fracture or running the triathlon with a broken bike. There were lots of examples like these during the Athens Games in 2004.

But the Winter Games are different. In a nutshell, mishaps are more dangerous in winter events. Samantha Retrosi suffered a concussion during the women's luge and had to be carried off in a stretcher. Melo Imai suffered a lower back injury during her snowboarding event and had to be airlifted to the hospital. Airlifts were also required after several crashes during practice runs for the women's downhill last week. But that's not as bad as it can get: Ulrike Maier was killed during a World Cup downhill race in Garmisch-Partenkirschen in 1994.

As I pointed out to one reporter, it's not really funny when athletes have to be rushed to the hospital.

But there's something to at least some of these crashes and falls: something that came out in the results, when speed skaters fall, crash, and make a point of getting back up and finishing the race, even if they're 30 seconds off the pace. Or when Chinese figure skater Zhang Dan fell during an attempted throw quadruple Salchow, and fell hard enough to stop the program, but managed to get back on the ice and nail the routine enough to get a silver medal. Or when Slovenian skier Andrej Sporn missed a gate during his second slalom run in the men's combined, but instead of skiing off the course as a DNF, herringboned back up the slope and re-skied the gate. He went from 2nd place to 33rd place, but he finished. I wonder how many other skiers would have bothered.

There's something to be said about getting back up and putting in a finish even when all hope of a respectable result is lost. For many athletes, finishing matters. Better DFL than DNF. Not that it's possible in every event: a crash in alpine skiing or luge is almost always a DNF, and there's nothing you can do about it. But there's something important being expressed whenever somebody crosses the line after hitting the ground, long after everyone else has finished.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Hard Bigotry of High Expectations

More than anything else, I think, this blog is opposed to the idea that anything short of a gold medal is a failure on the athlete's part. Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno writes the usual Canadian whinge about high medal expectations falling short -- written only four days into the Olympics! -- that includes this bit of profound offensiveness about Canadian speed skater Cindy Klassen:
For Klassen, on the weekend, there was bronze in the 3,000 metres, which is hardly failure. But it's hardly the top of the podium either, for an athlete who has become rather accustomed to stepping up there on the World Cup circuit and who had never previously exhibited any tendency toward nerves or excitability or poor judgment in a race.

The Winnipeg native can atone -- a word and concept cited far too frequently, it seems, when the subject is Canadian Olympians -- in any of the races she has left here.
Via Tart Cider. Yes, you read right: DiManno believes that Klassen has to atone for getting a bronze medal.

My default position should come as no surprise: given the stringent qualification rules imposed by the IOC, the various sport governing bodies, and national Olympic committees, I don't think that anyone who manages to get to the Olympics has anything to apologize or atone for.

Now, DiManno's point is about people whose world championships fail to translate into gold medals. To which I would respond, so what? We're talking about someone who still managed to make it to the podium. If the world champion finished 24th, yes, some questions along the lines of "What the hell happened?" might be warranted.

But if world champions were supposed to win all the time, why bother running the races? I think anyone who actually competes in a sport will tell you that, yes, there are other people in their sport who are actually good, and things can happen during competition. If you're so myopic to conclude that if someone else wins, it's because it's your guy's fault, not because somebody else was better or stronger or just plain luckier that day, then you need to pull your head out of your ass and look around at the rest of the field a bit.

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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Signing Off

Well, that's it. I'm not sure I knew what to expect when I launched this blog a bit more than two weeks ago. I wasn't sure what the last-place finishes would look like, or what the response would be to this blog -- or whether anyone would even notice. As it turned out, lots of people noticed, and the response has been almost unanimously positive.

As for the results, we didn't get the last-place story that the media always hopes for: the ludicrous last-place finish. (They tried with the women's marathon, but given the severe conditions and the 16 DNFs, any finish was an achievement.) Partly that's a result of the IOC's crackdown on the novelty acts. And partly it's because last-place finishes, like medal finishes, come in all shapes and sizes.

Athletes come in last for all kinds of reasons, whether it's spectator interference, injuries, or deliberate strategies -- these were some of the more interesting last-place stories from these Games. But by and large last-place finishers were just like any other athletes at the games: some had a shot at a medal but it didn't work out, some were strong contenders, some had no hope but tried their best all the same -- and some might even test positive for steroids.

Last-place finishers are just like any other athletes. Most get ignored. Lucrative endorsement deals won't be waiting for the last-place finisher, but they won't be there for the seventh- or fourth-place finisher either. They won't be showboating at the end of the race. Their officials won't be demanding a duplicate gold medal. As far as the media is concerned, those off the podium hardly matter except as cannon fodder for the victors. But they're the nine-tenths of the iceberg beneath the surface: they're where most of the Olympics can be found.

This is my last post to DFL. I've been asked whether I'll do this again; I haven't decided yet. I've got other projects to work on -- and, believe it or not, I have to look for work. Keep an eye on my personal blog if you're interested in finding out what happens next. This'll be a hard act to follow, though.

I'll leave comments open for a few more days. Reader feedback, whether in the comments or by e-mail, has been a definite highlight of this little project. Thank you very much.

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DFL Media Roundup

International coverage of DFL was largely based on the Reuters and Agence France-Presse reports (see previous entry on news coverage). In addition to the stories mentioned earlier, I've received links or reports of stories appearing on the web sites of Le Figaro, L'Unità, Il corriere della sera (Milan), and Il corriere del Ticino (Lugano), as well as this Argentine web site, this French web site, Yahoo! France, Ynet in Israel (registration required), TV 2 of Denmark, Australian IT, a Spanish radio station, XTRAMSN (New Zealand) and probably a zillion other places I've missed. Suffice to say, it's gotten around. I'm given to understand that reports also appeared in Colombia, China and on South African radio.

I had an interview with the BBC World Service that turned into this pretty good article. I did another interview for their morning show in East Asia just after the Games to sum up the results. Separately, I had an interview with Irish National Radio as well. (Just keeping track, is all.)

From what I've been able to read -- and for the most part it was just the wire stories translated into other languages -- I'm pretty happy with the coverage: they understood what I was trying to do, and the focus was on the athletes and my arguments about their performance, rather than on me personally.

On the other hand, Canadian coverage focused an awful lot on me, as though I and my background -- the junior high track meet anecdote and my snake breeding was brought up more than once -- were as interesting as what I was doing here. I've never been accused of being boring, and I suppose the fact that a Canadian was responsible for something that was getting international attention was of interest to a national media that will look for the Canadian angle in anything, but I didn't think I ought to have been the focus of attention. I didn't think I ought to have been the novelty; the site should have been.

Of the print stories, the National Post article was probably the best -- well my mother liked it -- though it's for subscribers only online. The Ottawa Sun and Toronto Star articles were, I thought, less good -- the latter looks like an awful lot of cutting and pasting. It also apparently made La Presse, but I didn't see the article.

Other than that, I was on the radio a lot -- I had short interviews with news radio stations in Kitchener-Waterloo, Regina, Toronto and Montreal -- and last Friday made the rounds of the television news networks: first live on CBC Newsworld, then CTV Newsnet (taped then repeated throughout the day). I taped bits for CTV's and Global's national news coverage, but I'm not sure whether they ran. Here's a screenshot provided by a friend from my Newsworld appearance:

This was early in the interview, mere seconds before I learned the fine art of looking into the bloody camera. (They fixed me midway through; it was my first time on live TV.)

Surprisingly, other than the Yahoo! News story and the blogs, there doesn't seem to have been as much U.S. coverage as there was in the rest of the world. Make of that what you will. (I had a few inquiries that I wasn't able to respond to, for example, a couple of radio morning shows that focused a bit too much on the freaky and wacky for my comfort -- I'm not sure they were in it for the same reason I was.) Still, I had plenty of visits from American readers, so word got around even if the U.S. media wasn't by and large interested.

It did make a few "wacky news" digests such as this roundup of Olympic news tidbits -- which interestingly says,
Crowe drew his share of critics for the concept, but give him his due: He invented the one Olympic competition in which a disgruntled runner-up won't be demanding a duplicate gold medal.
Cute line -- but what share of critics? Does Dwight know something I don't? All I've had is a couple of trolls writing e-mails or comments deliberately trying to pick a fight -- typical for a site with any profile. No one has yet mounted a serious attack on me, this site, or the concept. It's a bad media practice to invent a controversy just because you think something might be controversial.

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Monday, August 30, 2004

The Final Tally

We Have A Winner: In the end it was no contest: Greece had the most last-place finishes -- 13 of them. The next highest result was Australia with eight; Poland and the United States had seven each; Egypt and China had six each; and a total of 25 countries had three or more last-place finishes.

Right. Fine. So what does it mean?

Not much, really. I never took this nearly as seriously as some of my readers, and especially not as much as the media. It was more a satire on the medals race at each Olympics -- where, it seemed to me, something was being measured, but it wasn't athletes' performance.

But, fun aside, where are these last-place finishes coming from? The reasons for some of them are easy enough to guess.

Most countries that had a lot of last-place finishes sent a lot of athletes. Interestingly, eight out of the 10 top last-place-finishing countries had more medals than last-place finishes -- only Egypt (five medals, six last-place finishes) and Kyrgyzstan (no medals, four last-place finishes) did not. A country may enter three athletes in one event, with one winning, one placing in the middle of the pack and one finishing last. Countries with large delegations tend to have entered a lot of team sports as well. So a lot of it can be attributed to the law of averages -- the more athletes you enter, the more opportunities you have to come in last.

Greece, as the host country, was able to compete in events for which it ordinarily might not have been able to qualify. Many of their last-place finishes were in team events -- relays, soccer, synchronized swimming. Some athletes may not have been sent if the Games were held somewhere else. But who would deny them an opportunity to compete in front of their home crowd. The host's prerogative is probably behind most of Greece's last-place finishes. In any event, they still won 16 medals.

Several of Egypt's last-place finishes were in team sports where, presumably, there were continental qualifiers -- they were the top African team, and got slaughtered by teams from other continents with more depth of talent. Team sports in general were an interesting dynamic: with only eight to 12 spots, it wasn't easy to get in and finish last in the first place. A last-place finish in water polo or volleyball is a different thing than in sports where entering an athlete was a bit easier.

Those were the only trends that leapt out at me; the rest can probably be attributed to random chance and individual performance -- where injuries, stress, and the plain fact that some people are just better at a given thing than others, were the deciding factors. I'm sure some readers may see some patterns themselves; give us your best take in the comments.

The One Hundred Per Cent Club: Based on the athlete numbers that were available to me, Brunei Darussalam, Samoa and Somalia had the dubious distinction of having every athlete they sent to the Games finish last in at least one event -- they sent one, three and two athletes, respectively. A BBC interviewer asked me about this yesterday -- how should Samoans feel? Proud of their athletes, naturally. But, now that I've thought about it, which would have been better: to send a few athletes and have them finish last, or to send no athletes at all?

Individual Achievement: Several athletes scored last-place finishes in more than one event. Macedonia's Divna Pesic finished last in two of shooting events; Diamantina Georgatou of Greece finished last in both single and synchronized 3-metre springboard diving. There were several canoers with two last-place finishers as well: Emanuel Horvaticek of Croatia finished last in the 500- and 1,000-metre C1; Jordan Malloch and Nathan Johnson of the United States finished last in both the 500- and 1,000-metre C2. There may have been others elsewhere that I didn't catch. Congratulations to all of them for (presumably) trying their best in more than one event.

The Events Not Covered: Badminton, beach volleyball, boxing, one cycling event, fencing, individual gymnastics, judo, table tennis, taekwondo, tennis and wrestling.

Fun with the Results: Readers have asked for more detailed results -- last-place finishes compared with medals, last-place finishes divided by the number of athletes (compensating for team events, so that every member of a team is counted when the whole team finishes last), last-place finishes compared with a country's population. I'll leave them as an exercise for the curious. Feel free to play with the numbers and share the results in this entry's comments.

Tomorrow I'll try to wrap things up with a final look at media coverage of DFL: not just where this little project has been covered, but how it's been covered.

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