Tag Archives: olympics

21st Century Olympics

Just resting now after a few wild days closing off out the Olympics.

My sense is that, despite the grumblings of the UK press (which has some pretty good reasons to set the bar low), these Olympics will get good marks. Athletes got to venues on time, the infrastructure was able to handle the crowds and people had fun. For Canadians there were the added benefits of owning the podium working and, of course, a gold medal in hockey. Things did go wrong, but they were in largely beyond the control of the organizers (it would be great if we could make it snow or stop an El Nino but happily, we can’t) or – in the case of the Olympic Cauldron – they were dealt with.

I had a number of wonderful experiences. I was able to be at the Canada-Russia game. I met a few athletes, even saw a few medalists – and was (very generously) given 5th row tickets to the men’s hockey bronze medal games by Bryce Davidson. I held an Olympics torch, saw the Stanley Cup and got to see the fireworks display at LiveCity in Yaletown. Moreover, I get to ride the Canada Line – the subway to Richmond and the Airport that was built for the Olympics – almost everyday.

All this to say – I had a great time.

But having witnessed two weeks of Olympics I can help but feel there is an underlying challenge for the Olympics – one that emerges from the security concerns of a post-September 11th world and the Olympic Committees obsession with ensuring that only its sponsors are able to advertise, broadcast or even talk about the Olympics.

As technology improves the capacity of the Olympics to prevent people from broadcasting live from the Olympics is going to become increasingly challenging. The Olympics is maybe one of the best examples of an entire jurisdiction being controled so that – to paraphrase Lawrence Lessig – a legal structure, as opposed to technology, becomes the limit free speech and expression. Increasingly, truly free societies may begin to balk at the restrictions the IOC wishes to place not just on corporations but on citizens who are hosting the games. This is also true of the security required to host theses events. The Winter Olympics are relatively small and – security he was very present but not overwhelming. But only by post-September 11th standards. The fact is that, unlike in Calgary, today the venues are fenced off and secured – leaving the Olympics at times feeling a little more like a G20 event than a celebration. Or perhaps, to be more fair, there are really two Olympics – that going on behind the fence, and the rest taking place in the city.

In short, I begin to wonder how many communities – especially those within liberal democracies where individual rights are well established – are going to want to bid on the Olympics. Perhaps the biggest risk is that the IOC, in a bid to sustain its business model, will find itself increasingly having to partner with cities in countries with perhaps not the strongest human rights or democratic standards precisely because it is only those places that can enforce the rules (both in terms of safety and licensing) that that IOC will demand.

I think Vancouver avoided the security excesses people feared about but it isn’t hard to see – looking at Vancouver – the dangerous direction the Olympics could be headed in. And that would be tragedy. Whatever people may say, the Olympics remain a powerful symbol for peace and global brotherhood. Moreover, if done right they can leave host cities with important legacy infrastructure projects (again – the Canada Line stands out). But if the business model of the Olympics mean that it must lock down the cities that host it the costs may simply become too high for most communities.

My sense is that a re-imagining of the Olympics business model is probably in order – one that will allow it to respond to the realities of a networked 21st century world and that re-balance safety concerns with the need to create an environment that is fun and open. Moreover, such a re-imagining would be a fantastic project – something that might revitalize the Olympics in other powerful ways – making it more open, accessible and inspiring, in short, an Olympics that is relevant and ready for the 21st century.

How Vancouver's Open Data Community Helped Open Up the French CBC

For those uninterested in the story below and who just want the iCal feed of cultural events in Vancouver, click here.

Also, I had a piece on the Globe site yesterday, was in the air all day, but was told it hit #1 most viewed, which, if true, is nice. You can read it here.

A couple of weeks ago – at a party – I met someone working at the CBC who talked about how they were organizing a calendar of all the cultural events at the Olympics. Turns out the French CBC is placing a strong emphasis on the Cultural Olympiad that is taking place concurrently to the Olympics and they were gathering all the events they could find into a spread sheet.

I commented that CBC views and listeners – French and English – would probably find such a calendar useful and that it would quite interesting if the CBC shared it as an iCal feed so that anyone could download it into their computer’s calendar.

He agreed, but was unsure how to create such a feed. Admittedly, neither was I – but I did know some people who might…

So at Vancouver’s last Open Data Hackathon – kindly hosted by the City Archives and organized by Luke C – I asked around to see if anyone might be interested in converting the spreadsheet into an ical feed. Up stepped Jason M. who did a little trouble shooting, figured out how the spreadsheet needed to be reformatted and then figured out how to convert it.

So now, if you want, you can download a fairly comprehensive list of the cultural events taking place during the Olympics straight into the calendar on your iPhone, computer, google calendar, etc…

It’s got more events than a lot of the other calendars and includes concerts being played at Maison du Quebec, Saskachewan, Alberta, Ontario and Atlantic Canada House.

This is a bit of a shift for the CBC, the kind of shift that I think we need to be supportive of… a little more open, a little more sharing and a lot more useful. Most importantly it is a great example of how the idea of open data spreads – by being useful.

And the olympic winner is… the Soviet Union?

With the Olympics wrapping up many countries will be looking at the final ranking and assessing how well they did. Already the spin wars are brewing. A few American newspapers are trying to talk up a favourable story for the United States by emphasizing certain aspects of America’s medal tally: more gender parity in its medals, lots of team medals which only count for one even though lots of athletes get medals.

Others – including some other American newspapers and the official Olympics Medal Standings – recognize the dramatic rise of China and prioritize rank according to Gold Medals won.

But for all the talk of the rise of China and its challenge to the United States, one simple fact remains, much of this jostling for position is made possible because the USSR has been wiped off the map.

Indeed what is amazing – and has gone relatively ignored –  is how well the USSR would have done at the Beijing games were it still intact.

Admittedly it would still have trailed China in Gold Medals won – 44 (USSR) to 51 (China) – but it would still have bested the United States 36. However, it is over in total medals won where the USSR would have crushed everyone. Combined, the countries of the former Soviet Union won an astounding 175 medals in Beijing, leaving both America (110) and China (100) far in its (theoretical) wake. Indeed even using the New York Times scoring system (gold = 4 points, silver=2 points and bronze=1 point) the mighty USSR athletic machine would again crush the competition 353 points to China’s 274 and America’s 256.

What makes this feat all the more impressive is that their combined population has not grown (indeed it is in decline in most places), nor, I imagine, has funding for sports likely improved all the much. If anything, things are likely more difficult vis-a-vis funding – particularly in relation to the sums invested by the Americans and the Chinese. A sporting generation has passed since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 – indeed many of those competing probably can’t even remember those calamitous events 17(!) years ago. What keeps the USSR a formidable Olympic contender? Is it the social capital of trainers, coaches and professionals, is the the legacy of physical infrastructure or a political culture that rewarded athletic excellence? It would be interesting to know – somehow a centrally planned approach for creating Olympic success has survived its apparent balkanization and decent into decentralization exceedingly well.

The table below, and so much of the work for this post, was done by Richard Dice who tabulated all the data and kindly forwarded it to me. Thank you Richard.

Current Rankings
Gold Silver Bronze Total
USA 1 36 38 36 110
China 2 51 21 28 100
Soviet Republics Rankings
Gold Silver Bronze Total
Russia 3 24 21 28 73
Ukraine 9 7 5 16 28
Belarus 13 4 5 10 19
Kazakhstan 19 2 4 7 13
Azerbaijan 27 1 2 4 7
Lithuania 27 0 3 4 7
Georgia 31 3 0 3 6
Uzbekistan 31 1 2 3 6
Armenia 31 0 0 6 6
Latvia 51 1 1 1 3
Estonia 57 1 1 0 2
Kyrgyzstan 57 0 1 1 2
Tajikistan 57 0 1 1 2
Moldova 69 0 0 1 1
USSR 44 46 85 175
Hypothetical Ranking by Medals
Gold Silver Bronze Total
USSA 1 44 46 85 175
USA 2 36 38 36 110
China 3 51 21 28 100
Hypothetical Rankings by Golds
Country Golds Ranking
China 51 1
USSR 44 2
USA 36 3
Hypothetica NYT Rankings
Country Medal Points Ranking
USSR 353 1
China 274 2
USA 256 3