How To Measure A Meet: Gold Count Or Nos Game?
After the World Juniors Championships wrapped up in Dubai last Sunday, we ran a headline on our coverage of the last day of action that read “Horton King, Meilutyte Queen, Australia Wins Meet”.
A reader wrote it to raise an oft-debated point: who won the meet? Not Australia, he believed, noting: “Craig, I have to take exception to your headline which stated that the Aussies won the meet. Having the most golds does not make a country the winner IMO. Apparently, FINA agrees with that as they awarded the 3 titles to the USA on a point core. The 10 gold medals achieved by Australia was due to essentially one swimmer (Horton) and rightfully so you have him as the swimmer of the meet. But the Aussies were well behind the USA in medals and points and they also were well behind the Russians in medals achieved.”
As the creator of the League of Swim League of Nations in the midst of a big and historic count that will reflect long-term trends and shifts, I appreciate the reader’s sensitivity on the subject and willingness to raise it: clearly, the US, in breadth and depth, is the world No 1 in swimming. Few would debate it. I also think it a worthy exercise to reflect the investment in programs in the development of depth and breadth in swimming.
Even so, the way meets have been measured by the IOC, FINA, the world media, the very sport of swimming itself far and wide around the world is reflected in the first and top graphic that appears at the end of all battles: the medals table. And on that score, the first column, not the last, is where it is at: gold count.
The debate cuts to the heart of what elite, world-class sport is about.
It crops up time and again and in trawling through the many tomes on the subject I came across an academic, science-based website’s handling of it a few years ago, the question posed “what is the point of sport?
The debate started with this:
When I watch my dog play, I know why he is doing what he is doing. When he is chasing another dog he is practising the chase, he’s building a relationship with the other dog and he’s working out his place in that two dog pack. He also play fights, the answer to why he does that is obvious.
I can watch most sports and like to play football, cricket and rugby, but why? What does playing a game give me? If your a kid it’s again, obvious. You build up your muscles, you gain skills like hand to eye coordination, you are socialising and at the same time competing with the other person and finding your natural place in the group.
So why do we continue to play games all the way though are lives ? Why are people of 60, 70 still playing games of darts, golf, tennis or bowls, with the same people they have been playing with their hole lives, what can they gain from still competing at that age ? Or are we simply, very competitive creatures?
The first reply came from a professor in Australia:
Some people find enjoyment in such activities, why does someone continue to paint or study or act, work, drive etc in later life. But really i think you answered your own question when you introduced the example of the kid, you are socialising and at the same time competing with the other person
socialising, we’re social creatures and theres no reason why we should stop simply because we’re getting on in life.
Competition: I don’t know about you but i get a certain degree of satisfaction from being able to do something or make some achievement that comes from competing. I would have to say that we’re just social and competitive creatures.
And then came this succinct judgment from a chap in California:
To kick ass and win.
And there we have it: the bottom line.
When our reader notes Horton’s big contribution, he is, as I noted in a comment reply, a little unfair to the rest of the young Aussies. This is the AUS Vs USA count on gold count:
- AUS 3 boys 1 relay; 2 girls
- USA 3 boys ; 4 girls, 1 relay
Very similar. The bulk of the difference among top 3 nations was on bronze count: USA 12, RUS 9, AUS 2 – but who counts a meet based on bronze medals? Perhaps only those who need to.
In the debate on counts and interpretations, my vote goes to the ultimate score: medals – with gold counting for more than all other colours. Not hard to conclude from Dubai, then, that Australia won the meet – by one gold.
FINA’s points table is a good reflection of the strength of nations but it counts strength in the top 16, as does out Swim League of Nations, an exercise that reinforces the picture of the USA as supreme aquatic superpower of the pool. But here is the trouble with that count as the priority measure, as reflected in our Olympic Games count for the 2012 Swim League of Nations:
- GBR 92
- FRA 89 ￼
So, the question is: how many of you out there think that Britain had a better Games in the pool than France at London 2012? There can be no question what the right answer is. That France has a journey ahead if it wants world-class podium chasers across the range of Olympic events is a very clear part of the story of Gaul and its progress in world waters. However, at the Games, this was the count that mattered most:
- 4 2 1 7 FRA
- 0 1 2 3 GBR
GBR fared better in the count of all swimmers making the ranks of the best 16 finishers but in a France Vs Britain duel, the result is extremely clear: victory for Gaul.
That is the headline, that is the thing that makes it into the worldwide media database, that is the assessment far and wide of what happened at London 2012, just as “Australia wins meet” is the top-line overview of what happened in Dubai, alongside Mack Horton king and Ruta Meilutyte queen. While the medals table and the gold count of world-class meets features in the bulk of reports and coverage in sports pages, by broadcasters, on official websites, there is very scant mention of the points table. That is an internal issue, so to speak: something swim programs care about, something that those investing may care about, a key measure of commitment and strength, of excellence … and raw feed into programs, population figures in the mix.
Points scores are a legitimate and very useful count but they don’t top the medals table – and the 4th column in the medals table does not out rank the first column. If you start to make the bronze count worth more than gold, you miss the point of sport: winning. Who is the more successful athlete: one solo gold at the Olympic Games or five bronzes, including 3 relays? Great effort five bronzes, truly terrific – but the one champion gets the headline, no question.
In swimming we recall the achievements of Breen, Bennett, Horsley, Harrigan, Kirschbaum, Sohl, Backhaus, Gustavson, Ellis, Swagerty, Daniel, and more (all US Olympic bronze medallists … how many did you recognise?) but the wider world recalls Spitz, Phelps, Lochte, Weissmuller, Madison, De Varona, Meyer, Evans, Meagher, Coughlin, Franklin and Co. They all helped the USA become the world’s swim superpower but the gold standard is the contribution that counts most.
It is why, at US Olympic Trials, though two qualify in each race, they call out the winner and the winner alone immediately after the race. Winning is the headline.
There are many ways to measure a meet. Let us know what your No 1, top-line count, is.
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