Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Long March, Manitoba edition?

After reading several posts (see
Mary Agnes Welch, PolicyFrog and Hacks and Wonks) lamenting the number of Manitoba athletes in Beijing (just two, compared to at least 11 for Saskatchewan), I decided to see if I could find comparable numbers for past Olympic Games.

The most recent games were the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy. I couldn't find a regional breakdown of all of the athletes, but looking at the medal count, I came up with:

4 medals awarded to Alberta athletes;
5 awarded to Manitoba athletes;
3 awarded to Ontario athletes;
3 awarded to Quebec athletes; and
9 awarded jointly to Canadian teams,
for a total of 24.

If we look at the regional composition of each team that received a medal, we find that the teams break out as follows: 1 team of predominantly Newfoundland and Labrador athletes, 1 largely Ontario, 1 Alberta, 2 Quebec, 1 Manitoba, 1 AB-BC tie, and 2 AB-SK tie. That gives us the following approximate medal count totals:

AB: 6.5
MB: 6
QC: 5
ON: 4
SK: 1
NL: 1
BC: 0.5

Total: 24

Based on medal count, it looks like it was Saskatchewan's turn to take the lumps last time, with a measly one medal (actually one bronze and one silver shared jointly with Alberta athletes) compared to Manitoba's six medals, including two gold, for the best per-capita take in the country. And athletes from BC, who'll host the Olympics in 2010, barely even registered on the map.

I'd like to chalk up the Summer Olympics-Winter Olympics difference to Manitoba having a comparative advantage in winter itself, but ... oh wait ... Saskatchewan also has an abundance of winter.

When looking at the above numbers, some might point out that the medal take by province is a whole different ball game (sorry) than the number of athletes participating in the games by province. That's absolutely true, but taking medals is what the Games are all about, n'est-ce pas?

No matter your opinion, I think taking numbers of athletes by province from one Olympic Games gives us far too small of a sample size to make conclusive statements about the health of sports in one province relative to another. However, if someone wants to pool the data from across, say, ten Olympic Games, maybe there'd be an interesting argument to make. Until then, I think it's safe to say that athletes -- no matter what part of the country they're in -- could use more funding and better facilities.

We may only have two this time around, but they'll compete like a thousand!

Photo: Bird's Nest, Beijing National Stadium


PolicyFrog said...

I agree, but the difference this time (12 vs. 2) is still surprising. And SK has multiple athletes in aquatic sports, while we have none. Given that the Pan Am Pool is still considered a premium aquatic facility in Canada, that's a bit odd.

As for MB's Turin medal count, remember that we're only talking about two athletes: Cindy Klassen (4 ind., 1 team) and Clara Hughes (1 ind., 1 team).

Anonymous said...

You have to assume a few things with Olympic athletes. All amateurs who qualify have talent in their respective fields at a level that is better then average. They also have an interest and a desire to get better at what they do.

The Olympics are a farce. Unless you can find a way to stretch your swimming athletes to 6 ft. 5 in plus and grow them a set of 15 inch feet, money is not going to make them better or more competitive.

I wouldn't be too concerned,Canada is a winter competitor. For the rest, keep plugging along, and do try and stretch a little.