Sochi Olympics: Americans Love to Be the Best, at Events That Make Us Look Best

Dan Levy@danlevythinksNational Lead WriterFebruary 5, 2014

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 05:  Aja Evans and Elana Meyers of the United States practice a bobsleigh run ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the Sanki Sliding Center on February 5, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

There will be nearly 300 medals handed out during the Sochi Olympics. There are 230 United States Olympians, many of whom are scheduled to compete in multiple events.

Doing the math, America should win…all of the medals.

We should win all of the medals in Sochi because we're Americans, and that's what America does. (Can someone check my math on this? Preferably someone from another country because we are ranked 30th in the world in mathematics proficiency, according to Liana Heitin of Education Week.)

America is the best, which is why we love the Olympics—both summer and winter—so darn much in this country. We win all of them, almost every time.

The United States has won 2,679 medals in Olympic history, more than double the next nation (the USSR) that no longer even exists. But more than 2,400 of those medals have come in the Summer Games. The Winter Olympics have never felt quite so dominant for American athletes, relatively speaking.

Still, there have been 2,680 medals handed out in the history of the Winter Olympics, and according to the NBC Olympics database, the good ol' U.S. of A. has won 274 of them. Of the 898 gold medals awarded in history, Americans have collected 93.

That has to be the best, right? Wrong.

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 05:  Bobby Brown of the USA trains during Ski Slopestyle practice at the Extreme Park at Rosa Khutor Mountain ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on February 5, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Norway, of all countries, has the lead in both total medals (313) and gold medals (112) in Winter Olympic history. We're losing to Norway!

(For what it's worth, Norway ranks 22nd in the world in mathematics.­­)

By the looks of the early prognostications for the Sochi Olympics, we are going to keep losing to Norway. From The Wall Street Journal's Matthew Futterman:

This country of five million people is poised to pull off one of the great triumphs in sports by winning the overall medal race and likely the most gold medals at the Sochi Olympics. The Wall Street Journal's medal projections for Sochi suggest the Norwegians will win 33 medals, one more than a strong team from the U.S., whose population is roughly 65 times as large.

As the article points out, the Norwegian stranglehold on the Winter Olympics medal tally is nothing to fret over if you're an American, mainly because the athletes from Norway stick to what they do best. The Nordic events are called that for a reason, and most of Norway's medals come in cross country and ski jumping events.

America is sending 230 Olympians to try to be good at…everything else.

Seriously, if we could win every event, we would. It stands to reason that in Winter Olympics history, the United States has won roughly 10 percent of all the medals handed out because we send, on average, nearly that many athletes to compete.

There are expected to be between 2,800 and 2,900 competing athletes in Sochi from 88 countries. Eighteen nations are being represented by just one athlete. We have 230 times that representing ours.

We better win. Because that's what we do.

In the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, the United States won the most medals—37 to Germany's 30—despite finishing in a tie for third for the most gold medals, with Norway. That honor went to Canada, with Germany finishing second. (You don't even want to know how far ahead of us those countries rank in math.)

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 05:  Noelle Pikus-Pace of the United States makes a practice skeleton run ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the Sanki Sliding Center on February 5, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

In truth, you don't need to be all that good at math to figure out that the more events a country enters, the more opportunities that country has to medal. With 230 athletes competing in Sochi, the United States should battle for a place on the medal stand in a good number of events, including several in the disciplines of alpine skiing, figure skating, hockey, speed skating and snowboarding.

You know, the events we care the most about. Because they are the ones we usually win.

In the history of the Winter Games, the United States has won 39 alpine skiing medals, fourth most of any competing nation. We've won 46 medals in figure skating, the most of any country. The 67 medals in speed skating are third most in history, and we are fourth all time in short-track speed skating with 18.

In hockey, the United States has won 15 medals, including three gold, between the men's and women's teams. That's second only to Canada.

Feb 4, 2014; Sochi, Rosa Khutor, RUS; USA snowboarder Shaun White during a training session on the hill at the 2nd jump at Extreme Park. Mandatory Credit: Jack Gruber-USA TODAY Sports
Jack Gruber-USA TODAY Sports

The 19 snowboarding medals are the most by a landslide—dare I say, an avalanche—while we've dominated the freestyle skiing competition as well, pulling home 10 medals in those nascent Olympic events, the most of any nation.

Sure, there are other events—and some, like bobsled, where the Americans have a chance to medal—but just as the Norse competitors dominate their events, we know where our Olympic glory lies. The athletes who win those events will be remembered and revered for ages.

The other events are nice too. Luge is cool. Doubles luge is…interesting.

The biathlon is…an event at the Olympics.

So are cross-country skiing and ski jumping and curling and a whole host of events we have a slim chance to dominate.

We like to dominate, so we pay closer attention to the sports in which we do.

I always wonder what it would be like to watch the Olympics in another country where different sports matter because they're good at other things. Moreover, I wonder what it would be like to watch the Olympics as a completely impartial observer.

Is speed skating a bigger deal than Nordic combined, or are we just more likely to win a medal in one than the other? There is no way that other parts of the world care as much about snowboarding and freestyle events as we will the next few weeks, but damn it we are good at those, so they're a big deal to us.

And that's not a knock on our patriotism (read: jingoism), by the way.

Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press

I don't begrudge Americans for caring more about the sports we win. In fact, I wrote essentially this exact same article two years ago for the Summer Olympics; an event I'll readily admit I care more about than the Winter Olympics because, in part, we win more there.

Human interest can only take us so far. It's the realization of a dream—years of preparation culminating in exalted Olympic glory—that make our athletes truly interesting.

Our best become the best, and those with the most hardware around their necks get invited to the best events, talk on the best shows, endorse the best products.

It's in our nature as human beings, no matter where we are from, to want to be the best at certain things.

It's in our nature as Americans to want to be the best at everything. Even doubles luge.

When we have someone who is the best—or in this case 230 someones trying to become the best in their respective events—the entire country pays attention.

Just look at the Summer Games. Why do you think swimming became so popular the last 15 years? We kept winning. It's the same reason why diving, for all intents and purposes, is shown mostly on tape delay between other events. (We aren't as good at that anymore.)

If our handball team wins a few gold medals, don't think for one second that sport won't explode in America.

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

Oh, and it's not just the Olympics. Look at the Super Bowl, for example. More than 110 million people sat through a complete blowout because Seattle and Denver were the best two teams in a sport where America is not only the best in the world, but it's a sport very few countries even play. It's ours, which is part of the reason we love it so much.

David Beckham sat in front of a contingent of soccer fans and media in Miami to announce his ownership of an MLS club on Wednesday and said he thinks soccer will be a huge force in America in the coming generation because, "this country wants to be the best in everything."

We will be great at it because we finally seem to want to be great at it. That's the American way. (At least in terms of athletics. Don't get me started on the math thing again.)

As soon as we're good at something—no, as soon as we are the best—be it football or futbol or golf, an upcoming Olympic sport at which, oh by the way, the United States excels, or snowboarding or two-man freaking luge, people will pay attention.

With that admission, it's time to find a new set of American heroes in Sochi. Hopefully all 230 of them.


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