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

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Touching a Nerve: More Reader Mail

After peaking at slightly more than 50,000 visits on Thursday, traffic here on DFL is starting to ease off a bit. Clearly this little project has touched a bigger nerve than I had expected. From reading your comments (thank you) and the blogs -- more than 130 of them at this point -- that have linked to this site (thank you), I'm getting a sense of why.

There's an awful lot of cynicism about the Olympics these days: it's not just the drugs and doping and the judging scandals, it's the laser-like focus on winning, the strutting of the victors, the lucrative sponsorship deals, the excessive expectations. Many of us have become battle-hardened, turned off by the glitz and the money and the corruption. Some readers have said that this blog has made the Olympics watchable again. Wow.

Other readers come from a different perspective: in the shadow of the glitz and the money, they feel their athletes -- and by extension, their countries -- are the perennial underdogs. If the focus on the Olympic story is solely on the winners -- or on the more colourful, "oddball" last-placers -- then these stories never get told. In that sense, maybe, this blog is more inclusive.

I'll start with an e-mail from Mary in California:
Just a note to thank you for the blog postings. I understand what you're doing and it's not only laudable, it's a lovely gesture to those who might not get more than a passing sympathetic glance from the golden boys and girls and the media. I noticed, also, that reading the results of last place finishers requires quite a bit of effort; as an American and a journalist I'm used to scanning for the "pertinent" bits, who won, how fast were they, and all that truck. Your blog forced me to slow down and actually savor the feats of these DFLs, which they deserve. Just getting to the Olympics requires dedication and training and a level of commitment I can appreciate, if not emulate!
I've received some e-mail from China. Zhangjun writes: "I'm glad to see what you've done. All the athletes should be respected." And Phoebe writes:
I got to know that you made a list of the last athletes in Athens from Chinese website. Well done! We do need to pay attention to those heroes as well. Thank you for doing this.
Sarah writes,
This is an awesome view of the Olympics. Definitely makes it more interesting to watch them now instead of just the winners you got the DFLs. You should honor them by inviting them to a special club or something.
But would they accept? (I haven't heard from any Olympic athletes -- I really hope I've given no one serious offence.)

I thought Cris's e-mail was particularly thoughtful, and not just because nice things are being said about me:
It's funny -- the DFL finisher represents a strange paradox of being at once laughable and dignified. You're right: the spirit of the Games often lies somewhere toward the middle or back of the pack, and considering the sad state of affairs in many nations around the world, it is remarkable that some athletes can represent their countries at all. Your blog puts a clever spin on the way we look at sporting, and somehow we can identify with -- or even envy -- the obscure athlete who competes for the love of the sport and comes closer to glory than most any of us will.
Katie in Cape Town, South Africa:
Not many of us will ever see the Olympic Games from an athlete's perspective and I agree that just being selected and finishing an event is a major achievement. Our country has done OK and I've tried to watch as many of our athletes as possible. Wish I was actually there cheering them on! Congratulations on understanding the "Olympic Spirit" and bringing nations of the world together!
I liked the following e-mail so much I read it on the air when I appeared live on CBC Newsworld yesterday (more on which anon). Koffi Brou Brigitte writes from Côte d'Ivoire (which we in the English-speaking world used to call the Ivory Coast):
I come from Côte d'Ivoire, a little country of Africa. I speak English a little bit, but I understand your fight. Our athletes will return home without any medal. Thank you for all the unknowns, and BRAVO.
Allan Hewitson, a Canadian by his ISP, writes,
What a unique idea -- and keep it up. Your BBC comment that finishing last in the Olympics is better than most of us could do, is, of course the real issue. I take the Games seriously because so many of the participants put so much of their lives into their sports and events. But I maintain my philosophy that there's very little so totally tasteless that you can't get a laugh out of it. This is one of these things.
And finally, another damn Canadian: Gary O'Brien, who lives about an hour away from me in Hull, Quebec, writes,
I followed the link from today's edition of La Presse (Aug. 27) and was quite happy to find such a site. The Olympic Games (esp. athletics) always have great stories, and many involve the non winners, and it is great to follow them in such a way. Bravo and congratulations for your dedication.
Thanks for writing, everyone. I appreciate it very much.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Reader Mail Egoboo

Positive feedback is a wonderful motivator; I hope you don't mind if I share some. I wasn't sure whether people would get what I was trying to do -- i.e., have a little fun, but not at the athletes' expense. The idea was to be light-hearted, not mean spirited. I'm relieved to see, from your e-mails, that I didn't screw up.

Allison Dakin writes from Australia:
Way to go! I totally understand what you are doing! No-one at the Olympics are losers! They all had to win and work bloody hard to get there in the first place!

I am a Aussie so even though we love our sportspeople to win we also champion the underdog!
Tony Simmons, who runs a turtle rescue in Texas:
It seems that we have a couple of things in common, our love for reptiles and our respect for the human spirit. I've really enjoyed looking through your site. Reading through these stories has bolstered my faith in humanity.

Thank you for pointing out that finishing last doesn't make anyone a loser.
Expatriate Canadian Danny Curylo writes:
I just wanted to thank you for providing an insight into the games that truly epitomizes the spirit of sport. As a Canadian living in the US *groan* I have become bitter with pathetic NBC coverage of the games and the damn arrogance of US athletes and broadcasters. Only a Canadian could appreciate the value of participation for the great accomplishment it is. Thank you, and I look forward to the 2006 Winter DFL blog.
And an initially skeptical Graham Lockley writes:
Just to let you know, I followed the link from El Reg to your site thinking that it would be a typical "scoffers" kind of place but the tag at the top (Because they're there, and you're not) said volumes about your attitude. Still not sure about the central idea of your site but will give you plenty credit for appreciating that those who came last at least DID compete.

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Reader Mail: Athlete Numbers

I've gotten a couple of e-mails questioning the numbers of athletes in each Olympic delegation that I've listed in the standings table at right. Chris writes,
Where's that info from? I read that the Australian team was the 2nd biggest at 482 competitors. Does your figure include support staff and admin/management ? Just asking . . .
And Joyce asks the same thing:
Curious as to how you came up with your counts for number of athletes. You list Greece as having 966 athletes, but a web site lists only 441 and Canada you list as 555 but I saw an article that says 262. Officially the US says it sent 531 but you credit 1,558?
If my numbers are wrong I'd love to get them corrected, so if you know where I can find the information, and you can point me to it or send it to me, I'd be eternally grateful.

At the moment, the athlete numbers are taken from this page on the Athens 2004 site: I search by national Olympic committee and take the number of hits returned. It's quick and dirty, and I suppose it's possible that there are duplicate entries. (To be honest, I haven't cross-checked all 1,558 American listings.) I was pointed to this page after I posted a question in Ask MetaFilter (from whence all blessings flow) about where to find such data.

Corrections are always welcome, but please don't take these standings too seriously -- they're far too incomplete (so many events without last-place finishers, you know), and the ties are broken too arbitrarily.

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Reader Mail

Meredith writes,
I know what DFL means but it'd be nice if you mentioned it on your "welcome to DFL" page since the term is a common slang saying among athletes but is destined to leave "common folk" scratching their head in wonderment.
Good point -- I've been trying to underplay it because I figured that if the media got hold of it, they'd have a hard time with the naughty word. The D stands for "dead", the L stands for "last", and the F is obvious.

The standings table on the sidebar is getting all sorts of suggestions. Steve thinks I should break the ties in the opposite order, with larger teams ranked higher. Katie and Alfredo want me to display the countries' score as a percentage of last-place finishers versus athletes. For example, São Tomé and Príncipe has one last-place finish and three athletes at the Games, so their score would be 33.3 per cent, whereas China, with 800-plus athletes, would have a much smaller percentage score even if it has the most last-place finishes. This is an excellent idea (so of course I'd been thinking along the same lines, ha). The only problem is that for team sports, I'd have to factor in the size of the teams: if the men's eights rowing team finishes last, for example, it's actually nine athletes (including the coxswain) out of n, rather than a single last-place finish. I might do something along those lines at the end for just those countries whose scores would end up being more than a few percentage points. Still thinking about it.

Jodi sends a nice note about my decision to include the paralympic events in Sunday's athletics results:
Thank you SO much for publishing info on the wheelchair athletes. As a wheelchair user, it makes me sick the way they don't give these athletes as much coverage as their "able-bodied" counterparts. These athletes work just as hard if not harder for what they do.
I figured that what wheelchair athletes wanted more than anything else was to be treated like any other athlete; subjecting them to the cruel lash of DFL was, oddly enough, the right thing to do.

Finally, I think X Garlaza is a little upset about the Portuguese football (note: soccer) team: he wants them listed here even before the final game is played!

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