Predictions for Olympic Medal Race Props at Bodog
by Trevor Whenham - 07/22/2008
The Olympic Games in Beijing are still a couple of weeks away. That means we have lots of time left to brush up on our table tennis, synchronized swimming and archery knowledge so that we can get as much action down as possible. Before we work on becoming that much of a degenerate, though, we should take some time to concentrate on the bigger picture. The race to win the most medals at the games is always hotly contested, but even more so this year. The Americans have won the most medals of any country in each of the last three Olympics, but China is playing host, and they are determined to be the host with the most. Bodog has several different props dealing with medal counts for the games. Here's a look at two of the more interesting ones.
Overall medal count - China is favored to win the race at 4/5, with the Americans close behind at 11/10. Let's start with China. The Chinese have been making a slow, steady climb towards the top. In 1992 and 1996 they finished in fourth by gold medal count. In Sydney they moved up to third, and by Athens they were second. China is certainly moving in the right direction, but they still have a lot of ground to make up. The Americans won 102 medals in 2004, while China had just 63. That would seem to be insurmountable if it weren't for the intense effort that the Chinese were putting into coming out ahead. As you would expect it has been a concerted, well-planned effort. They knew that they already had strength is events like gymnastics, table tennis and martial arts. They have been sure to continue to encourage that strength. At the same time, they have identified the areas that the Americans particularly excel - swimming and track, for example - and they have increased their efforts in those areas. It's a sound but challenging approach - every medal that the Chinese win in an area of traditional American strength is not only a gain for them, but also potentially a loss of a medal for the States.
To try to close the gap, the Chinese have spent a fortune recruiting the best coaches out there. That means Americans in a lot of cases. Those coaches and the athletes have had every resource that they need to do their best. China shouldn't have illusions that they will surpass the Americans in the pool or on the track, but if they can narrow the gap there then things could get interesting. The Chinese determination to win even has a fancy name - Project 119. There are 119 medals available in athletics and water sports, and the intense investment has as a goal the capture of as many as possible.
The Chinese aren't just focusing on major events. They have also invested significantly in sports like shooting and archery that are off the radar. Every medal counts the same, after all. Athletes also will be highly motivated, as Chinese medals will convert into things like large cash payments and admission to prestigious universities.
The question is whether this will be enough to catch up to the Americans. The experts seem split on this one. It could be, but then you also can't assume that the Americans have just sat by idly as the Chinese have intensified their efforts. They have the strength of experience behind them, and we know that they can excel on the Olympic stage because their athletes have done it repeatedly. That won't be the case for a lot of sports for the Chinese. This one could go either way, but I tend to see more value in the Americans than the Chinese.
There is a dark horse in the race, too. Russia is in the race, but at a longshot price of 14/1. In 2004 they had just 10 fewer medals than the Americans, though they were third in gold medals. In Sydney the Russians were just four medals behind. They have won more medals in each of the three Olympics since the Soviet Union broke up than they did in the previous race. The price of oil means that oil-rich Russia has lots of money, and they have a nationalistic government that would highly value showing their worth through winning medals. They are certainly in third in this race, but they are competitive enough that 14/1 would seem to hold some value compared to the other two prices.
Gold Medal count - China is at 2/5 to win here, and the Americans are at 13/8. This one is much more clear-cut, as the prices indicate. Unless something goes dramatically wrong for the Chinese there are just more events that they will win than the Americans have. The gap here is much smaller than the overall count - the Americans won just four more gold medals than the Chinese in Athens. The Chinese approach of targeting specific medals has, by several expert estimates, put them in line to win somewhere between 44 and 46 gold medals, while the Americans are likely to win somewhere around 38 or 39. Obviously things could change, but the gap is far enough apart in those estimates that the Chinese have a clear edge.
There is another factor. A big part of the American hopes lie in just a few baskets. Michael Phelps, for example, has a realistic shot at winning as many as eight gold medals in the pool. If he were to suffer an injury, or even just wasn't in top form or optimum health, then the Americans would be in a gold medal deficit that they couldn't overcome. Swimmer Katie Hoff will also be trying to win seven events, and is open to similar problems. That's almost half of the projected gold medal count that rely on the arms, legs and lungs of two people. The Chinese hopes aren't nearly as concentrated.
If you were to force me to make a prediction then I would say that the Americans would win the overall count, but the Chinese will win more golds. That will allow the propaganda machines for both countries to claim a victory.