Sorry, America: China's leading the real Olympic medal count

·Columnist
·4 min read

TOKYO — China is kicking the United States' tail (at least for now) in these Olympics, although you wouldn’t know it if you just scanned the medal tables in the American media.

In an unexplained yet (apparently) nationally accepted counting method, Americans tally the standings not by what country wins the most golds, but what country wins the most total medals.

NBC. New York Times. Washington Post. Alas, even Yahoo Sports.

This is, to be clear, ridiculous.

That means China’s current tally of 32 golds, 21 silvers and 16 bronzes (69 total) is somehow not as good as the United States’ 25 golds, 29 silvers and 21 bronzes (75 total). Try telling China’s seven extra gold medalists that their victories didn't matter.

What in the name of participation trophies is going on here?

The rest of the world favors gold over everything. That’s how the International Olympic Committee tallies it. Same with the medal standing on the Toyko 2020 website. It’s good enough for media companies all over the world, just not in the U.S. apparently.

Everyone else has this right since, quite literally, gold is better than the others. It’s a simple concept.

Gold. Silver. Bronze.

The gold medalist gets the highest spot on the podium. The flag of the country that the gold medalist represents is raised higher than the others. They play the anthem of the gold medalist, not the others.

There is no subtlety here. There is no room for interpretation. At no point was it ever suggested that the three spots are equals. If they were, then they’d just hand out three gold medals.

China's won more seven more gold medals than the United States, so China is winning the medal count. It's that simple. (Photo by Wei Zheng/CHINASPORTS/VCG via Getty Images)
China's won more seven more gold medals than the United States, so China is winning the medal count. It's that simple. (Photo by Wei Zheng/CHINASPORTS/VCG via Getty Images)

Instead, back at the 1904 Games — held in St. Louis, no less — they came up with the concept of three colored medals. Everyone loved it. Prior to that the winner received a silver medal and an olive branch while the runner-ups each got a bronze or copper medal and a laurel branch.

The U.S. though, like its opposition to the metric system, decides to go it alone and, hey, what a coincidence, it just happens to make it look like the Americans are having the most success at the Olympics, when we most certainly are not.

This wasn’t some planned thing. The system was in place before China began capturing more golds here. It isn’t a coordinated way to spare America’s fragile ego and hide the fact that it isn’t dominating the Games.

It just looks that way.

Consider this: If the United States was leading the standings according to every single entity — official or neutral — in the entire world, but the Chinese media used a different system that put them on top … well, what would you think?

Besides, the total medal count does tend to favor the United States, which often has the largest delegation at the Olympics and, thus, the most chances to win medals (613 to China’s 431).

Right now though, it’s just embarrassing. There is no shame in not winning as many golds as China. Really, who cares? A nation's worth is not defined by the strength of its canoe slalom team. Besides, with track and field, basketball and boxing still going, we can still surpass the Chinese by any metric.

But making it look like we are reworking the numbers — even if it isn’t orchestrated — is humiliating.

The simple solution is to weigh the medals for the sake of the standings. Say three points for gold, two for silver and one for bronze. Or whatever value needs to be assigned. Then it wouldn’t be all about the gold, but it also wouldn’t pretend gold was bronze.

No one has ever tried to claim their company offers customers the “silver-standard.” A luxury experience is ever hyped as “bronze-plated.” The current price of an ounce of gold? $1,813. Silver? Try $25.43. Bronze is going for $2.55 for an entire pound.

If anyone wants to say they are all equal, I’m willing to trade pounds of bronze for pounds of gold any time you want.

Some of the American athletes have brought up frustration that sometimes “winning silver” is equated to “losing gold.”

“Excuse my French, but the fact we’re not celebrating silver and bronze is bulls—,” swimmer Lily King said. “What is that about?

“You get to bring a medal home for your country,” King continued. “Just because we compete for the United States and maybe we have extremely high standards for this sort of thing, that doesn’t excuse the fact that we haven’t been celebrating silver and bronze as much as gold.”

Hey, go ahead and celebrate and be proud of the accomplishment. Very few of us get to be in the top three in the world at anything.

That doesn’t mean bronze is the new gold. Or that — face it — China shouldn't be on top of the medal chart.

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