March 01, 2010

It used to be a sports truism that the Winter Olympics was one of the weak links in the American sporting empire, but no more. As Nate Silver points out, if we were to count only those sports that existed in 1988, the last Olympiad in which the Warsaw Pact (incl. East Germany) still competed, the US would still have led the medal count, winning nearly three times the number they won in Calgary. Canada appears to have been the real beneficiary of the "X-Games" expansion; 18 of the 26 medals it won in Vancouver, as well as 11 of the 14 gold medals, were won in events that didn't exist in 1988.

The nations of Eastern and Central Europe, on the other hand, have fallen off the pace rather dramatically. Even when you combine Russia and the other former Soviet Republics, the "Soviet Union" trails dramatically, losing twenty of the twenty-nine medals they won from the 1988 Olympics, and East Germany also takes a hit, although, remarkably, athletes born in the area that used to encompass the DDR continue to outpace their brethren from the former West Germany. And just to show that it doesn't simply represent the collapse of Communism, the decline is also evident in the performance of two perennial winter powers, Switzerland and Finland, both of which lost more than half of their medals from 1988.

February 28, 2010