When it comes to Olympic gold medals, Canada knows how to make history. The world’s second largest country is the only nation to have failed to win a gold when hosting a Winter or Summer Olympics. It actually managed to do so twice; in Montreal 1976 and Calgary 1988. Then, four years ago in Vancouver, everything changed. Canada won more gold medals than any country has done, in any Winter Olympics.
Until the 14 golds in Vancouver, Canadian media outlets generally sorted medals tables in the same way the U.S. media do – by the total number of medals. Countries tied on that number would be then sorted by gold, then silver and finally bronze. Of course, the flaw in this system is that winning five bronze medals puts you ahead of a country that wins four golds. And for Canada, the use of this system, dulled it shining achievement, putting it in third place behind the U.S. and Germany.
Outside of North America, the convention is generally to first sort by gold, then silver, then bronze. It awards champions, and by this system Canada “won” Vancouver 2010. But again, it has the flaw of not reflecting strength in depth. Winning just one gold medal would put you ahead of a country that wins a dozen silver and bronze medals.
The IOC does not officially rank countries, and prefers to stick by its creed: “The most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the fight; the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well.”
It’s understandable then, that in the wake of Vancouver 2010, Canadian media have begun to reassess how they measure success. It started in London 2012, when some outlets began ranking by golds. Unfortunately, for those who switched, Canada won 18 medals, but just one gold.
But a more marked change can now be seen in the medals tables for Sochi. The official broadcasters, CBC and Radio-Canada are now sorting by golds. Other TV networks and websites are using those tables under a licence agreement, or are using the same system for their own tables. Among them are networks who, just last week, were displaying the Vancouver 2010 table sorted by total medals.
On the other hand, almost all the print editions of newspapers are sorting by total medals, while some of the websites for those same papers are sorting by golds. You can understand why sports fans might get confused.
Nonetheless, come the buzzer at the end of the Men’s Hockey gold medal game on February 23rd, there’s little doubt that Canada will be at the top end of the medals table. Canada may even make history again. It just depends how you want to look at it.