Tag Archives: Olympic Games

2016 Olympic Games medal table vs. population and GDP

Now that the 2016 Olympic Games of Rio de Janeiro have finished, I wanted to update and share here in the blog a couple of tables I produced a few days ago comparing the medal count per country and the ratios of such medal count in relation to the population and the size of the economy of each country.

To start with, find here the official medal count, which is ordered taking into account which national olympic committee has obtained the most gold medals, then most silver medals and finally most bronze medals (and not by the total tally).

Rio 2016 - medal table 2016.08.21

In the table I have only included the top 20 countries, but you can find here the complete list. There are 86 nations that have collected medals in the Games. This means that over a hundred nations have not collected a single medal.

Without doubt the most dominant nation in the Olympics has been the United States with 121 medals won, 46 of them of gold. That is over 50 more medals than China or the United Kingdom.

However, the United States has a population of about 5 times that of the United Kingdom, therefore the pool of talent where to search for olympians is much larger. This allows me to introduce the first ratio: Population / medal. I collected the figures of population from the Wikipedia (here). Find a table below with the results:

Rio 2016 - ratio population medal table 2016.08.21 selection

The table shows a selection of 44 countries not the complete list of 86. Find such complete list at the bottom of the post and find your country. These 44 countries help me to make the following remarks:

  • Small nations such as Grenada and Bahamas, despite of having collected only 1-2 medals lead the table.
  • In the top 20 we find nations such as New Zealand, Denmark, Australia, Netherlands and Sweden that tend to be in the lead pack of any positive ranking. They seem to be good as well in producing olympian talent.
  • The 4 bigger European Union nations find themselves in the upper third of the list, with between 1 and 2 million inhabitants per medal, with the UK leading the pack followed by France, Germany and Italy.
  • United States for all its dominance in the medal table is only the 43rd nation taking into account the size of its population. That is at the middle of the table. One would say that the average American doesn’t play any better at sports but the sheer size of the country allows it to find plenty of good olympians in different sports.
  • Funny enough, just above the USA we find Russia in this ranking. And just below, Spain. All 3 have about 1 medal for every 2.7 million inhabitants.
  • At the bottom of the table we find large nations such as India, Nigeria, Philippines or Indonesia that with over 100 million inhabitants have also collected only between 1-3 medals each.
  • Plenty of nations have not managed to collect a single medal, some of them large nations: Pakistan (~194 million inhabitants), Bangladesh (~160 m). Most African countries have not won a medal as many in the Middle East (e.g. Saudi Arabia). Some emerging nations from Latin America neither: Chile, Peru, Uruguay

As there are few developed countries at the bottom of the list I thought of producing a similar ranking but with the ratio “gross domestic product (GDP)” / medal. The guiding thought is that the larger the size of the economy of a given country the more resources it will have to recruit sportive talent, to train it, to send it to international competitions, to build sport infrastructures, etc. (1) (2) I collected the figures of GDP from the Wikipedia (here; the source for most of the figures is the International Monetary Fund whereas for about 5 of them is the World Bank). Find a table below with the results:

Rio 2016 - ratio nominal GDP medal table 2016.08.21 selection

The table shows a similar selection of ~45 countries not the complete list of 86. Find such complete list at the bottom of the post and find your country. These countries help me to make the following remarks:

  • Among the top 30 nations all are small economies. The first G20 economy we find is Russia in the 34th position. These small economies leading the table translate between 1 bn$ and 20 bn$ of GDP per medal.
  • We find Grenada, Jamaica and Bahamas in top 10 in both rankings.
  • African nations that do well in athletics show up here: Kenya (12th) and Ethiopia (24th).
  • Where are New Zealand, Denmark, Australia, Netherlands and Sweden in this ranking? They are between the 25th (New Zealand) and the 48th (Sweden) positions, converting between 9 bn$ and 46 bn$ of GDP into a medal.
  • Where are the 4 bigger European Union nations in this ranking? They are between the 44th (United Kingdom) and the 60th (Germany) positions, converting between 41 bn$ and 82 bn$ of GDP into a medal. That is at the second half of the ranking.
  • Where is the USA? At the bottom of the pack, in the 73rd position just followed by China. Both translating between 152 – 162 bn$ of GDP into a medal. That is an economy about the size of New Zealand (4.7 million inhabitants).
  • We find the richest economies of the Middle East (Qatar and United Arab Emirates) at the bottom of the table, not being able to translate petrodollars into medals, despite of signing some good athletes.
  • At the bottom of the table we find some of the same large nations: India, Nigeria, Indonesia… and Austria.
  • Even if plenty of nations have not collected a single medal, most of the larger economies have. The largest economy in failing to win a single medal at Rio was Saudi Arabia (20th by nominal GDP), followed by Hong Kong (33rd) , Pakistan (39th) and Chile (43rd).

Another discussion would be whether in itself it is indeed important or not to collect medals at the Olympic Games but that discussion is out of the scope of this post.

(1) I used GDP and not GDP per capita with the idea the GDP per capita would be more linked to the overall sports habits and fitness level of the nation, but the number of athletes that can be sent to the olympics is limited, thus GDP would show by itself whether the size of the economy of a given country would work efficiently in finding that talent and bringing it to the level required to win medals at the olympics.

(2) I used nominal GDP instead of “purchasing power parity” figures with the idea that sport talent of olympic worth needs to be trained and tested in several international events along the year, thus comparing the more local PPP figures wouldn’t do.

Complete table with medal tally ordered by the ration “Population / medal”:

Rio 2016 - ratio population medal table 2016.08.21 TOTAL

Complete table with medal tally ordered by the ration “GDP / medal”:

Rio 2016 - ratio nominal GDP medal table 2016.08.21 TOTAL

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Athens Classic Marathon

I heard about the modern Athens Classic Marathon from Antonio, a colleague at the office. Ever since, I had wanted to take part in it. Last week, two friends (Jose and Juan), my brother and I completed it.

In a previous post I wrote about the legend of Pheidippides and the origin of the modern marathon. In this post I will focus on my experience and will share some of the pictures that we took during this trip.

Training

Volume of kilometres run per week.

Volume of kilometres run per week.

To prepare for this marathon I followed a 16-week training plan provided by Garmin (Level II). Each week it included between 4 and 5 days of running and often 1 day of cross-training. I fulfilled most of the plan, missing not more than two or three days of running and some more of cross-training. I did not skip any series session or long run. In all, I ran over 780km in those weeks, excluding the 42km of the race (an average of just over 50km per week).

During this training season I beat my 10k and half marathon personal records. I had not experienced any serious injury that prevented me from training during whole weeks or months as it had been the case in previous years. According to a running calculator that I use sometimes, had the race been in similar conditions as those 10k and half, I should have been around 3h30′. The profile and conditions were not the same, and despite of that I started with a pace towards 3h30′ just to see how far would I reach maintaining it and if I could be under 3h45′, thus achieving a new PR.

The day before the race we went to the marathon expo which was held at the Taekwondo pavillion of the 2004 Olympic Games held in Athens. This way we also visited the beautiful small port at Piraeus close to Faros (just past the Stadio Eirinis & Filias, where Olympiakos bastketball team plays).

At the marathon expo.

At the marathon expo.

Before the race

Marathon beach.

Marathon beach.

As I mentioned in the previous post, the race goes from the village of Marathon to Athens, replicating the route followed by Pheidippides to announce the victory of Athens in the Battle of Marathon. The Persians landed at the bay of Marathon in their attempt of invading Attica, thus Marathon is almost at sea level.

From Marathon, the race goes South more or less parallel to the sea-line for about 17 kilometres and then heads to the West to climb up the hills before the valley where the city of Athens is located.

Route of the Athens Classic Marathon.

Route of the Athens Classic Marathon.

The last part of the race is a descent from the hills to the centre of Athens where the Panathinaiko stadium is located. But by then, the damage is already done to the legs after a long climb.

Profile of the Athens Classic Marathon.

Profile of the Athens Classic Marathon.

The morning of the race, we were transported from Syntagma square to Marathon by dozens of buses early in the morning to be able to start at 9:00. Everything ran smoothly (in that and many other aspects the organization of the race was superb).

We changed clothes in Marathon, where we could take some pictures, go to the toilet, warm up and slowly get into the racing mindset.

Urinaries panoramic view.

WC panoramic view (at Marathon, picture by Jose).

We took one group picture and set for the departing line.

Pre-race group picture.

Pre-race group picture.

The week following to the race I went back to Marathon to visit the place with time and see the different spots (some of the pictures in the post are from those other days).

In the village of Marathon there is a small athletics stadium at the end of the national road from Athens to Marathon.

The 1896 Olympic marathon race started at “… the brigde at Marathon Plain”, or “… at the bridge near the entrance of the sacred city”, according to “Olympic Games 776 B.C. – 1896” by A. K. Bech, or “… The starting point will be at the 40th stadion on the Marathon – Athens national road”, according to the Athens daily “Olympia” on March 9, 1896 (as can be read in the milestone below). That point, the “40th stadion” of that national road, is marked by the milestone below.

Today, the Athens Classic Marathon starts a bit ahead at the mid-point of what is now a kind of majestic avenue at the beginning of which one can find a marble stone indicating the starting point of the olympic race, a milestone indicating that 40th stadion, and the tower where the Marathon Flame is lit after being brought from the Marathon Tomb (just 5km away).

1896 Athens marathon start

1896 Athens marathon start

40th stadion milestone

40th stadion milestone

Marathon flame tower.

Marathon flame tower.

Boston 2013 marathon memorial bracelet.

2013 Boston marathon memorial bracelet.

Just before the race start we observed 1 minute of silence for the victims of the attack at the Boston marathon earlier this year. This minute counted with the presence of president of the Boston Athletics Association. That was the 3rd such minute I had observed as during my honeymoon trip I had taken part in two races in the USA, in San Francisco and San Diego, from which I got the memorial bracelet that I wear often lately.

The race

At 9:03 our group departed and there we went my brother and I trying to pace ourselves at a bit less than 5′ per km. That was comfortable for the flat part at the beginning. Another positive point of that beginning: with less than 10,000 runners taking part the running was possible from the start.

Milestone of the km 1 of the Athens Classic Marathon Course.

Milestone of the km 1 of the Athens Classic Marathon Course.

The course of the marathon race is marked, not only by ad-hoc signals for the race, but by permanent posts along the road, such as the one of the picture for the first kilometre.

At about the km. 5 the course takes a small detour from the national road to round the commonly known as Marathon Tomb, or Marathon Tumulus, a park with a small hill where each year the Marathon flame is lit. Close to the park entrance, there is a small statue of Miltiades, credited as the one devising the tactics to defeat the Persians at the Battle of Marathon.

Statue of Pheidippides km. 18.

Statue of Pheidippides km. 18.

At the return from the tomb, already 6km had been passed. The road continued to be flat until about the 11th km, where the road started to pick up until km. 16, where there is a short and steep descent up until km. 17.

At the km. 18, there is a small statue of the legendary Pheidippides. From then on the road continues to climb more or less continuously until km. 31.

Up until the 20th km I was still at the pace of 3h30′, but in the beginning of the climb I was already feeling that it was going to be very tough to run kms at below 5’50”.

I have checked the Garmin records afterwards and I had already surpassed 167bpm at some points by the km 20th, which experience tells me that is the barrier that makes me feel fatigued.

Statue of a runner at km. 21.

Statue of a runner at km. 21.

During the race, not having read about heart rate, just by the feelings I had I decided to forget about the time and continue the climb at a more comfortable pace. With that, the 3h30 and the sub 3h45′ were gone. In the end I completed the race in 3h53’18”, but the profile nor the day (temperatures from 14ºC to 21ºC, on the hot end) were the best to attempt a PR.

At the km. 21 there is another statue of an anonymous runner.

I crossed the half marathon at slightly over 1h47′, but knowing that the following 10km would take about a full hour and not knowing how I would be for the remainder 11km.

The heat of the day called for lots of hydration, and at that point the organization was again terrific, with water posts every 2.5km and with isotonic drinks in most of the posts, plus energetic gels in some of them.

One hour later, and having reached the top of the hill I remembered the sentence one of us had read describing the race “from km. 31 you can fly down to the end”. Well, I was not fit for flying. When I tried to speed up I felt muscles starting to cramp, thus I couldn’t run any faster than 5’45”, which I tried to keep, drinking and eating well at each supply post.

Panathinaiko stadium from Acropolis.

Panathinaiko stadium from Acropolis.

Once in the centre of Athens, there were still some 3-4 kilometres to cover. I kept myself just for the last kilometre where the atmosphere close to the stadium was great, starting with the descent by Irodou Attikou street.

The last turn to the left, climbing up the ramps to enter the Panathinaiko and covering the last meters inside the stadium was overwhelming. One of the best marathon endings I can recall.

See in the panoramic below a view of how the stadium looked that day.

Panathinaiko stadium panoramic view.

Panathinaiko stadium panoramic view (picture by Jose).

I remembered then when I first visited Athens back in 2002. That time, we visited the stadium and took some pictures as if running in those tracks. Now, 11 years later, there was I, sprinting to complete the Athens Classic Marathon (my 10th), where it all began, no less.

2013 Athens marathon medal

2013 Athens marathon medal

Post-race groupe picture.

Post-race group picture with a great marathon team! Juan, Jose, me and Jaime.

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Καλημέρα, Marathon!

Καλημέρα, Marathon!

(Good morning, Marathon!)

At the time this post is being published, two friends (Jose and Juan), my brother and I are starting the Athens Classic Marathon; the marathon starting in the town of Marathon, in the East of Attica region, and finishing in Athens.

Today, there are hundreds of marathon-distance (and longer) races organized around the globe all along the year. The trend is growing. The numbers of people running such races is increasing year by year. But it all started here, in Attica.

Pheidippides, the legend

The basic traces of the legend are widely known: a courier named Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to announce the result of the battle and perished after the arrival. However, there are some confusions in relation to the legend, as it is well explained in the respective Wikipedia article.

The first record from the legend comes in a text from Lucian:

… The modern use of the word dates back to Philippides the dispatch-runner. Bringing the news of Marathon, he found the archons seated, in suspense regarding the issue of the battle. ‘Joy, we win!’ he said, and died upon his message, breathing his last in the word Joy … – Lucian Pro lapsu inter salutandum (translated by F.G. and H.W. Fowler, 1905) 

Statue of Pheidippides along the Marathon Road (picture by Hammer of the Gods27).

What is less known is that according to the story Pheidippides (530 BC–490 BC) was first sent to Sparta to request help from the Spartans when the Persians landed at Marathon. Thus, he already had run 240km to Sparta (and back). Right afterwards, he was sent from Marathon to Athens (another 40km) to announce the victory in the battle.

To the ones having completed a marathon race this makes sense, as: how it can be that it all started with the one supposed gifted runner collapsing after completing the 40km if thousands (about half a million) people each year complete a marathon? The catch is that Pheidippides had come from twice running what today is known as the Spartathlon, a 246km ultramarathon race which is also organized yearly in Greece, between Athens and Sparta.

Thus, the feats of Pheidippides have yielded two modern running race distances and hundreds of events.

The Olympic Games

Spyridon Louis entering the Panathinaiko stadium at the end of the marathon (public domain image, author Albert Meyer).

More than two thousand years passed until the sport of marathon was established on the occasion of the first modern Olympic Games held in 1896 in Athens.

The idea of including such a race in the programme of sport events was from Michel Bréal, a friend of Pierre de Coubertin. The proposal was accepted by the Olympic committee and that first marathon race had a distance of 40,000m (the current 42,195 distance for marathons was established years later, in 1924 , based on the distance of the 1908 London Games).

That first marathon was run on April 10th of 1986.  Only 17 runners took part in that race; of which only 9 of them finished, one being disqualified after his arrival (as he had completed part of the race on a carriage) and the other 8 retired at different points of the route. The race was won by the Greek Spyridon Louis with a time of  2:58:50.

Athens Classic Marathon

From 1972, the Athens Classic Marathon is organized yearly following the route of that first marathon race in 1896 and the legend of Pheidippides (490 BC).

Today in 2013, 117 years after those first 17 runners and 2503 years after Pheidippides, the 4 of us will try to cover the distance between Marathon and Athens, to say ‘Joy, we win!’ at our arrival and this time, not to collapse.

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London 2012 Olympic Games (project management)

Yesterday, I attended a conference by Ian Crockford on project management based on his experience at the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), the public body responsible for ensuring the delivery of the infrastructure, design and construction of buildings, transport and the legacy of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

london-2012-olympic-games4During the conference, Ian showed a couple of videos, several key figures of the project, and some insights of the best practices that were used, the main challenges they faced, the stakeholders they dealt with, the themes they worked on in parallel to achieving the project objectives and some anecdotes. Let me show some of the notes I took during the conference even if not in a very orderly fashion:

  • Time is the enemy”, even though he conceded that having such an immovable deadline (summer 2012) helped a lot. However, they aimed at completing the project one year in advance (summer 2011) to allow for 1 year of testing.
    • “80% of the value is gained in 20% of the time”, this is risky as it leaves you with 80% of the time to only achieve the remaining 20% of value… and the chances are that you screw it up:
      • it’s easy to lose value,
      • hold onto time,
      • increasing value is very difficult.
  • “Nail down the scope and budget early and stick to it”. After the designation of London in 2012, the ODA took 2 full years to plan everything, including the budget, which was only completed in June 2007 and published in November 2007. From the beginning they announced a plan along the line: “2 + 4 + 1”, 2 years of planning (allow enough time for planning), 4 years of building (including demolishing, construction, etc.) and 1 year of testing.
    • Even if he mentioned that changes are inevitable” he advised to create a culture of not accepting changes easily, only if very well justified.
  • Strategic themes (in parallel of project objectives): increase health and safety of the works (x10 times the British works H&S average), sustainability (local lobbies, Greenpeace, WWF…), equity (gender, race…), development (creation of apprenticeships linked to contracts with suppliers), etc.
    • Emphasis was on the increase in health and safety. It started as a bold objective,  with an open environment with all suppliers where they were told that the ODA would welcome every initiative that increased safety. This had many reinforced effects: lower employee turn over, better productivity, good atmosphere, etc.
  • Size (contracts, figures): the ODA had,
    • 150 NEC3 tier-1 contracts (valued at 2.5bn£) for the Olympic Park,
    • 160 JCT contracts (valued at 1bn£) for the Olympic Village,
    • up to 3,000 tier-2 contracts,
    • 10 concession contracts (utilities)
    • spend peaked at 180m£ per month in the Park,
  • Size (people):
    • The Olympic Park would host about 300 thousand people per day: 250k visitors, 25k media and 25k athletes. This lead to the provisional sizing of some of the infrastructures for such capacity and to provide for the removal of some temporary installations after the Games (e.g. bridges which during the Games had a width of 50ft, today are narrower than 20ft).
    • 47 thousand people worked on the project. Given the short-term nature of the project it was a challenge to attract and retain the people, to motivate and inspire them.
  • Decision making with emphasis on empowerment. “Let the partners deliver”. Asked about things that were underestimated he mentioned “the innovation capability of suppliers given the right environment” (examples given: new system to introduce handicapped into the pool, green plastics…).
  • Documentation: focus from the beginning in getting all the paperwork right (otherwise it may prevent the delivery of completed buildings, etc.).
  • Asked about the impacts of the crisis, he mentioned:
    • need for insolvency management,
    • 2 projects that were to be privately financed in the end were publicly financed (a housing project and the media centre),
    • as the budget was planned prior to June 2007 and the completion of the project ran from 2007 to 2011, many of the costs had been overestimated. This turned in a positive impact (opportunity). Forecasted inflation was not correct, expected bubble in property prices in East London did not happen, etc.
  • “It turns out that if you follow all the bits of Project Management manual… it works!”, even if he conceded that the last 6 months were spent micromanaging through completion.

Finally, there was a question that I wanted to ask before even going to the conference but that in the end I couldn’t ask (nevertheless I asked another one – on budgets). My home city, Madrid, has been a candidate city to host the summer Olympic Games for 2012, 2016 and 2020, coming as losing bidder the three times (London, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo). Trying to put the blame on someone or to find explanations for the painful defeats, the Spanish press has been prolific and ingenious in finding reasons. On the other side, the Spanish press was also quick to find the explanation for the selection of London for the 2012 Games either in the great last speech by Sebastian Coe or the last-minute lobbying by Tony Blair in Singapore (these explanations fail to explain why other speeches by remarkable athletes or lobbying by other high-ranking politicians go unrewarded). I wanted to ask Ian what was in his opinion the key winning argument or the strongest point of the London 2012 bid, but it turned out that he offered it right away in his speech (“won the bid for London”): the sustainable legacy, the tilting of London centre of gravity towards the East (Stratford), the recovery of a deprived area, the cleaning of polluted areas around the river, the effective use of facilities after the Olympics (a project which still runs until 2014). He pointed that in the cases of Sydney and Athens, the legacy had been a failure…

One of the videos he played, “Great Britain delivers” (3’32”):

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Berlin marathon breakfast run

One of the events that include some big marathons is a morning run the previous day, the so-called “breakfast run”.

When we ran the marathon in Paris, only our friend Serna attended that run. This time we went together and Luca and my brother Jaime waited for us at the end.

The run, a very easy run of almost 6 km, departed in front of the beautiful Palace of Charlottenburg and ended at the Olympia Stadion.

This stadium today hosts Hertha Berlin football matches, but it is better known as the stadium where the summer olympic games of 1936 were celebrated: the first ones televised, inaugurated by Adolf Hitler and the ones in which the athlete Jesse Owens won 4 gold medals.

See below some of the pictures we took during that morning run:

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Hopefully the next time we’ll remember to bring either flags or a festive costume as many of the other runners typically do.

See the route we followed from the palace in Charlottenburg to the stadium as recorded by my Germin GPS:

Breakfast run route.

Finally, I found two interesting documents in relation to the stadium and the games:

  • The stadium plan [PDF, 1.7 MB] from today’s stadium website. In it you can see the location of the Maifeld (used for Hitler’s government celebrations and during the olympics for the equestrian events), the Bell Tower, the stadium and the Olympischer Platz.
  • The official report [PDF, 42.4 MB, 640 pages] of the games. It contains all kind of info about the International Olympic Committee at the time, hundreds of pictures of the Games and all of results of the different events.

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