Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Medal Map

One more posting about the Olympics; but it's really about interactive maps. Mostly I still prefer static maps over the interactive kind, maybe the same reason that reading from paper is more nourishing than off of a screen. Still -- this is a hell of an interactive map.

I hope the New York Times maintains it for a while. Under the "geographic view," run it backward from this year -- when the US and Chinese bubbles are vying for the honor of biggest-ness, and a nest of European bubbles sit next to a nest of Asian bubbles. For one thing, it's interest to compare the 2008 and 2004 maps. It looks like China's sucking medals not from its other big rivals such as the US and Russia, but smaller European and Asian competitors, though we'll have to wait until Sunday to get a full picture.

Run the map backwards in time and watch the Chinese bubble shrink across the decades to nothing; the Australian bubble peaks in 2000, then shrink, but then gets bigger in during and after the Melbourne Games in '56; the South African bubble disappears in 1988 and reappear in 1960 (all of the tiny African bubbles vanished in '76 -- I forget why they were boycotting); and the behemoth Soviet bubbles of yore, except for 1984. Then there's the case of the insanely large East German medal totals, well reflected in the bubbles during the '70s and '80s, except for '84. The golden age of undetected doping, it was.

Except for 1980, the US bubble has always been pretty large, but not always the largest. But check out the 1904 Games in St. Louis -- it's as if the US is the Sun, and everyone else are planets. Then again, transit was more difficult in those days, and the Olympics wasn't the big hairy deal it would become later, so most of the Europeans skipped it. If the Games come to Chicago in eight years, it won't be the same kind of US medal sweep.

Sure, the Games should be in Chicago in 2016: the Daley Olympics. But looking at the map, I can't help but think awarding them to Rio would encourage South American Olympians, who have won so few medals over the years.

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