Tuesday, August 07, 2012

My take on the Olympics

Thoughts about the Olympics

  1. If you are rooting for your country, would you rather they get (say) 18 medals: 6 Gold, 6 Silver, 6 Bronze, or 17 medals: 10 Gold, 4 Silver, 3 Bronze?  More generally, when is (g,s,b) better than (g',s',b') Some schemes:

    1. The commentators and the websites seem to use g+s+b. They say things like
      American is leading the Medal Count without breaking it down.  Given that the margins-of-victory are often rather small, and all of the athletes who finish in the top 3 (often even in the top 20) are quite good, I think that just g+s+b is good.
    2. If you want to value gold medals more than a scheme like 3a+2b+c makes sense.  One problem- the weights 3,2,1 are arbitrary. What would a criteria be for good weights?
    3. It may be a complicated function. For example (g,s,b) is better than (g',s',b') if g ≥ g'+4 OR (g ≥ g'-3 AND g+s+b ≥ g'+s'+b').
    4. You may want to allow for a partial order--- that is, some triples are incomparable.

  2. Swimming or running: Often the top X people are 0.5 seconds apart and all close to or better than the world or Olympic record.  I would give them all medals. This is not some wimpy self-esteem crap--- if the athletes are that close together, and close to breaking records, they really are all excellent and you really can't say whose better. A possible scheme:

    1. If you tie or beat a world record you get a Gold Medal. (Might even allow if you are within X of a world record for some X.)
    2. If nobody has beaten or tied a world record and you tie or beat an Olympic record then you get a Gold Medal.  If someone else has beaten or tied a world record then you get a Silver Medal.  (I may allow some leeway in both cases.)
    3. The top person behind all of those people gets the bronze Medal.

  3. Or we could give more medals: Gold, Silver, Bronze, Zinc, Aluminum, maybe more.
  4. In Women's Gymnastics these women do spectacular things but if they land badly TAKE OFF X POINTS! Somehow that doesn't seem right.
  5. In most events Women and Men compete separately.

    1. Track and Swimming: Since these are timed we can say without apology that the men are better, so its best if they don't compete head-to-head. However, if a women wanted to compete in the men's event she should be allowed to (Are they now? I doubt it.) I don't think this has come up. 
    2. Gymnastics. Here its NOT that either gender is better, its just that they do different things.  The very thought of a guy on the uneven parallel bars terrifies me.  The thought of anyone doing backflips on a 4-inch wide beam also terrifies me.
    3. Equestrian- from what I could tell from the Yahoo Schedule Website men and women compete equally here.
    4. Archery and Shooting are seperated by Gender. For Archery this might make sense- some strength is required.  For Shooting this makes no sense to me. I asked a guy who knows about shooting and he told me that many non-Olympic shooting sports are not seperated by gender.  So why are the Olympic Shooting contests seperated by gender? My guess is that its the same reason COLT allows PC members to submit and CCC does not: because that's how we've always done it.

  6. Game theorist needed: The rules for Badminton were set up so that it was in China's interest to throw a game (see here).  In this case I think it should be fine for a team to forfeit rather than play badly on purpose. More important- the rules need changing.  The Blog Turing's invisible Hand discussed this here.
  7. What sport do you most want to see in the Olympics? I would say Chess Boxing or Skeet Surfing. Both make more sense then the Olympic sport of Modern Pentathlon which combines pistol shooting, fencing, freestyle swimming, show jumping, and a 3 km cross country run.


  1. 7. Modern Tetrathlon: running (or swimming), some non-judo martial-art, playing the game of go and low-tech archery. Sadly it doesn't exist so that may be a little harder than usual to implement...

  2. The original pentathlon was made to emulate the activities soldiers needed to be good at. In the late 19th century, soldiers needed to shoot well, use swords, ride horses, swim, and run. Now that it's the 21st, what are the key skills that soldiers need? Probably still running, but maybe it should be steeplechase. Shooting. Competitive "calling in an airstrike"?

    1. Remote control drone piloting needs to be in there.
      Information visualization interpreting too.

  3. Gymnastics - women do not do rings due to strength issues, there are probably other things that make sense to split them

    Equestrian - what's the gender of the HORSE (the true athlete)
    Sailing and Tennis have mixed-gender

    Modern Pentathlon - Tweeting, Facebook status updating, Blogging, Kinect boxing, Wii bowling

    1. Gymnastics: It works both ways- Men can't (or won't?) do the
      uneven parallel bars. I doubt men or anyone over 20 can do
      the Balance Beam. The Vault might be okay to have both do.
      Agree that the rings women would be at a strength disadvantage.
      Perhaps the Pommel horse too.

      Equestrian: They could have FOUR categories here:
      gender of rider x gender of horse. I'm glad they don't do that.

  4. 1. I think it's fairly common to rank the medals 4, 2, 1 for points (at least the NYTimes and http://www.medalspercapita.com use that – and medals per capita seems better than straight-up medals, but of course the US would never switch to that.

    7. Rock climbing is in the running for 2012, and I think it'd be a good event (watch some sport climbing (or bouldering) competition videos on YouTube before dismissing it). A lot of events seem unrealistic (like the cycling sprints) and I would be happy to see them replaced with events that have a much larger number of participants in the general population. Also, why can't swimmers just choose any stroke they want and just get to the end ASAP? While we're at it, toss speed walking as an event – if you want people to walk instead of run, make it a distance where they can't maintain a run (of course, that'd have to be well over 100 mi, so it'd take a while), or make it on "interesting" terrain – a very technical hiking trail or something.

  5. > If you are rooting for your country, would you rather they get (say) 18 medals:

    I think in almost all countries the counting is first number of golds, then silvers, and then bronze. I think the US is the only country I know of where they count the total number of medals.

    However, for most of the countries - except the US, China, and perhaps the UK - people are happy for any medals they've gotten!

  6. @Anonymous

    Sailing is not mixed-sex in the Olympics: http://www.london2012.com/sailing/events/ – but there will be the first mixed-sex sailing event in 2016 (most will remain unmixed, though).

    Tennis isn't really, either. If it were, there would just be a "doubles" competition, and you could have either two men, two women, or one of each. Instead, there is men-only, women-only, and exactly-one-of-each.

    1. Sailing USED TO BE mixed-sex for some events. They appear to have stopped this in the 1990s.

  7. It seems that if you are concerned about how to weigh medal, the main issue is weighing across disciplines, not gold versus silver. If a sport like soccer with a billion players in the world has one medal, while multiple medals are given to some horse ballet stuff or underwater dancing done by a few dozen people in the world, shouldn't we at least weigh them differently? And why are there medals for different weight classes in boxing and weigh lifting, but not for different heights in volleyball?

    So maybe a popularity-based ranking where you weigh by the log of the people actually active in the discipline.

    Sports to be added: definitely accordion wrestling: http://www.timeout.com/newyork/things-to-do/accordion-wrestling-hits-the-mats-at-lincoln-center-out-of-doors
    .. or throwing. Or anything with accordions.

  8. For me the two criteria that make for a reasonable medal weighting system are

    -Monotonicity: w_g>=w_s>=w_b>=0
    -Convexity: w_g+w_b>=2w_s (a gold and a bronze is at least as good as two silvers).

    A dominates B under all such weights iff it dominates for the weights (1,0,0) [Gold Medals], (1,1,1) [Total Medals], and (2,1,0).

  9. I just thought of another one that (IMHO) should be open to all genders:
    Diving. I don't see an inherent adv to either sex. However, I'm not
    a diver either. does anyone know?

  10. Everywhere outside America people use lexicographical order. Even Google does so.

    But the result of using lexicographical order is not consistent with the taste of American people and pundits prefer some formula that puts USA on top.

    1. Could you share the drugs you are on with the rest of us so we can live in your fantasy world too?

      By the way, the USA also has the most bronze medals historically and would be #1 at this point in the current Olympics rather than behind China if you go by gold or total.

    2. Typical ignorant American. You ignorant Americans think you are the center of the world and everyone else should think and live the way you do, otherwise they are idiots. Not surprising for people who spend so much of their life watching television that tells them all the time how exceptional they are. You can't believe how ridiculous are some of your actions.

      You don't even understand what I have written. Just Google for London 2012 and look at the table on the right side of the page

    3. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olympic_medal_table

    4. The USA finished with the most gold medals and the most total medals (but was a close second in bronze medals).


  11. I think computer scientists should stick to what they know about and make suggestion only about their own competitions (sorry, conferences!).

  12. About multiple gold medals/awarding more medals than usual: I think things should stay the way they are. Let's make a transformation:

    Participating in the olympics -> Getting a paper accepted in your favourite major conference.

    Winning a medal -> Best paper award.

    Breaking a world record -> Making a breakthrough, this can be measured by prizes not tied to specific conferences.

    Many times there have been papers that were contesting for best paper, yet usually 1 or 2 are usually awarded that title. Wouldn't award best paper to 6 people, because they had a successful paper, diminish competition? In the running world 0.5 seconds in 100m is around a 5% decrease in performance. Furthermore, the distribution is far from uniform, reducing your time after you have broken the 10 seconds wall is like introducing a breakthrough on your breakthrough, it is left for the best of the best.

    I wonder what Oded Goldreich would have to say about competition in the Olympics and how does it compare to competition in the scientific worlds, given his recent though-provoking essays. Is our system "better" than the system of the athletic world? If yes, how does our system compare to the ranking system before commercialization (in a bad sense) of Olympics and sports in general?

  13. In my country (a smaller one in middle Europe), we use lexicographic ordering, regarding the weighing of medals. I don't know without a doubt, but i think most of Europe uses this one. But it's understandable that some countries prefer other ways, just like how China declared itself the winner by total amount of golds in Beijing, whereas the USA won in total medals won, so they "preferred" that system.

    1. Seriously? In your country a Gold medal in the Olympics is not better than a Bronze medal in the Olympics? Are you from Trollsylvania?

    2. I don't know how you read that into my post, but I meant that a gold is better than any number of silver medals, and a silver medal is better than any number of bronze medals.

  14. In all countries I am familiar with except the US and Canada, lexicographic ordering is the one used.

  15. Shooting is an interesting case; it used to be that the events were "open" (open means either gender can participate). It's only in recent Olympics that it got separated -- in fact, in some events, the last winner of the open competition was female.

    Do note that while some sports have separate "women" and "men" competitions, some sports actually have "women" and "open" events -- but in most of those cases, there's no woman who can compete on the same level as the top men. Open is different from mixed, the latter requires teams consisting of both men and women (for instance, tennis' "mixed doubles", or the non-Olympic sport of korfball, a netball like sport with teams of 4 man and 4 women). IIRC, the 2016 will have a sailing event requiring a mixed crew.

    As for medal counts, 1 Gold beats any number of Silver and Bronze. (As a first class Dutch speed skater says: winning Silver means you're the first loser). But there's all kinds of statistical fun one can do to get a medal count that favours one country: divide the number of medals by the number of participants, or divide the number by the number of inhabitants of the country. Or multiply the medals of team efforts by the number of team members.

    1. 1) Anyone know WHY shooting changed from open to sepearte?
      (my speculation that it is seperate because `thats the way it always was' is incorrect.)

      2) If (as I do) you think that the margin of victory between
      Gold/Silver/Bronze is fairly small then total number of medals
      makes sense. If (as many do) you think GOLD >> SILVER >> BRONZE
      then of course Lex order makes sense. Both favor large countries (though lex a little less so) which is also a problem, and YES some of what you suggest to alleviate that.

      3) Does anyone know- what country did the best in

    2. I think the answer to 3 is Grenada; a small country winning 1 gold, and having about 110,000 inhabitants. India, on the other hand, with its billion inhabitants, had just a few silver and gold.

      A few days ago, there was an item on Dutch television; they played the game as well, and found the following to get the Netherlands on top of the medal list: sum the gold medals won during all the Summer Olympics, and divide this by the area of the country.

      Personally, I don't care at all about the groupings by country. Medals aren't won by countries -- the majority are won by individuals; who have trained countless hours over several years. I root for every sports person doing something extra ordinary; I don't feel a special connectedness to someone who happens to have a passport issued by the same government as mine.

  16. http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/datablog/2012/jul/30/olympics-2012-alternative-medal-table

  17. Among the 4 teams that were disqualified in the badminton game, 2 were Korean, 1 was Chinese, and 1 was Indonesian. It is rather curious that it has been overwhelmingly often narrated as an incident where Chinese alone played too honestly according to their incentives. Are Koreans so invisible? Do people know where Korea actually is?

  18. A sensible theory-based approach to ranking medal counts (by considering the outcome over the whole space of possible weightings on G, S and B scores) is described and applied at http://mat.tepper.cmu.edu/blog/?p=1681

  19. Michael Trick analyses various weights given to gold, silver, bronze medals: http://mat.tepper.cmu.edu/blog/?p=1681