The opening ceremony was a treat, with spectacle, humor, history and local tradition all mooshed together and then blown up.  It was wonderfully free of militaristic posturing or scary mass unison use of people as automata , regrettably omitted knights in armor and King Arthur, and had a nice combination of British pride and  self-deprecation, or at least understatement and wit.  For a foreigner, it had a quality of Jeopardy quiz (I am quietly proud of having identified both The Tempest and I.K. Brunel). It must have been fun for the live audience, but very different, because a lot of full-screen content for us was presumably scoreboard videos squoze into a very small visual angle for people in the venue.

An essential element of these things seems to be the parade of athletes as national ‘teams’, obviously fun for the athletes though pretty long.  I think the Olympics would be improved by potting down this insistent angle in medal ceremonies and coverage.  Some events are reasonably national competitions, as there doesn’t seem any other way to make up a league of, say, basketball teams for a one-off tournament that would be of any interest.  But the endless reporting of medal counts by country, and flagraising for someone who wins an individual event, which nearly all are, is crosswise to the original spirit of the modern Olympics and feels a lot like a cold war leftover, East Germany’s steroid-soaked ghost.

A nice antidote to this is here, an interactive graph correcting medal scores by national GNP and population.  The big winners by these much more reasonable standards are surprising.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

2 thoughts on “Olympics”

  1. Loved the Olympic Ceremony, though it is my first one.


    – Kenneth Branagh with a bit of Shakespeare’s Tempest, though he seemed to be playing Isambard K. Brunel. Now I get it! Brunel = Prospero!
    – The singing of Blake’s And did those feet in ancient time
    – The Empire Windrush, which brought the first West Indian immigrants
    – The “teenage romance” to pop music
    – The minute’s silence for the war dead of all nations.

    Hate all the frippery with medal’s tables and flags. Out of date. At least the parade of athletes at the start is now casual and carnival.

  2. There are other factors. A nation that dominates in a sport has a big edge in the medal count if there are lots of medals in that event — Korea in Tae Kwan Do for example, which has several weight classes, hence many golds to be garnered. Basketball has only two. Harvard Sports Analysis Collective has had a couple of posts on how to adjust the medal count, here, for example.

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