The Odds of Winning an Olympic Gold

What % of Olympic Athletes actually win Gold Medals?

A gold medal with the olympic rings insideI always have mixed feelings when watching the Olympics. Though I love the excitement of the races, love watching the reactions of athletes and teams when they win – I feel for those that don’t win. I feel even more for the athletes that fall, trip, crash or lose due to a faulty clock as did South Korea’s A Lam Shin in a fencing event where she lost the Gold Medal due to a timing error [an additional second granted to German competitor which allowed her to score more points, leading to a win for the Gold].

The Answer is….
To answer the above question – it is less than 3% of athletes competing that will actually win an Olympic Gold. Of the 10,500 athletes that compete, 302 will win Gold. Not winning, for some athletes can lead to a feeling of loss, depression and/or shame that can continue long after the event. In some countries losing means ‘losing face’ which has life long implications, as is the case for China’s ‘disgraced’ badminton team member Yu Yang who was disqualified [due to losing ‘on purpose’ to place in a more competitive ranking, yet still was not breaking any rules] and says she will never play the sport again. Jordan Metzl, a nationally recognized Sports Medicine Physician says, “Losing is often overlooked. Winning is celebrated but the pain of loss is significant” (Kesterton, 2012).

From the average spectator viewpoint like myself, whether I’m watching the events on television, or keeping up with wins through Twitter or online, the wins are celebrated, athletes glorified, and so they should be. These athletes have worked hours and years for a place on the podium. Yet what about the athletes that don’t make the podium, who trained just as many hours and years as those that did win? Most of these athletes have great attitudes, are positive, feel satisfied with their performance, feel they have won – yet I can’t stop thinking of the ones like A Lam Shin (below).

Making it to the Olympics is an outstanding accomplishment, yet the pressure these athletes face, even for those winning a Gold medal is something the average spectator cannot imagine. All athletes present at the games are winners in their own right – my hope is that they are made to feel the same way.

Few Win Gold, Globe Life, Kesterton, M., The Globe and Mail, August 3, 2012
Korean fencer escorted out after staging Olympic sit-in in protest of judging, Reuters, July 31, 2012

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