Why The Summer Games Are Better

As a Track and Field guy I have always preferred the Summer Olympics to the Winter Olympics.  Figure skating is cool until about the third “short” program that seems to take an eternity.  I don’t get curling.  Hockey is already on TV with the NHL.  Sports like  Bobsled, Luge, Ski Jumping,  Freestyle Skiing, most of the Snow Boarding events, and many others, lack head to head competition where the athletes are competing against one another at the same time. Often it is hard to tell who is winning or even be certain of who won when the event is over.

This year, as I was watching the opening ceremonies, I was amazed at how many countries sent only one athlete.  When the announcers  informed us that 82 countries were participating, I knew this left very few countries competing with each other for the medals.  I did a little looking online and here is what I found.

Winter Olympics 2010 Vancouver:

  • 82 countries with athletes competing
  • 16 countries brought only 1 athlete
  • 38 countries brought 5 or fewer athletes
  • This leaves only 44 countries with more than 5 athletes including the Unites States (215), Canada (206), and Russia (177)

Compare this with the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing where 204 countries sent athletes and only 1 country (Nauru) that sent a single athlete.

The reasons are obvious.

  • Not every country is cold enough to practice winter sports.
  • Not every country has mountains or hills to climb-up and then slide down on various objects.
  • Not every country has a population with people able to afford the equipment necessary to participate in many of these winter games.

What we are left with is a very shallow talent pool, and a greatly reduced field of athletes.

So to be the best ski jumper in the world, you only have to be better than a very small number of  people who live in cold climates in or near the mountains, and who have enough money to afford the equipment, access to the training facilities, and who choose to participate in this sport that most others would never consider.

Compare that to sports like swimming, cycling, running, soccer, and basketball, where almost everyone gets a chance to test their skills at some point while growing up.  The elite talent has a chance to rise to the top because nearly everyone gets a chance to at least try.

So to be the best 400 meter runner in the world, or the best swimmer, or the best soccer player, you will need to be better than everyone in the world and not just a few people born into circumstances where they have access.

Of course in the summer games, there are events like equestrian and rowing that have small and economically narrow populations participating, but there are far more events where the average Joe gets a chance.

This is not to say that what the Winter Olympians do is not impressive or spectacular.  I am just pointing out some possible reasons I am more impressed with people who compete in the Summer Games.

I would write more but Norway is about to take on Sweden in Women’s curling and I want to see who won the Men’s Biathlon 12.5 km Pursuit.

    • Faisal Al-Khalidi
    • February 16th, 2010

    I think this blog is awesome! Keep the writing up Cat

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