The Great Olympics Debate: Should We Rank Countries by Gold Medals or Total Medal Count?

Canada's silver medallist Brittany Phelan and Canada's gold medallist Kelsey Serwa (L) bite their medals on the podium during the medal ceremony for the freestyle skiing Women's Ski Cross at the Pyeongchang Medals Plaza during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang on February 23, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Dimitar DILKOFF        (Photo credit should read DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images)
Which medal tastes better? DIMITAR DILKOFF/Getty Images

When the 2018 Winter Olympics come to a close on Sunday, fans will be able to take a final inventory of the successes and failures of their respective nations. But figuring out Pyeongchang’s big winner isn’t as simple as it may seem. First, we need to determine how, exactly, bragging rights should be doled out.

If total medal count is paramount, then Norway will come out on top. At the time of this writing, the Norwegians have claimed 38 medals in Pyeongchang, nine more than second-place Canada. But if gold medals and gold medals alone are the true yardstick by which competing nations should be judged, then Germany’s current haul of 13 brings them level with Norway for first place.


In order to settle this matter before the closing ceremony, let’s take a look at the case for each metric.


The case for judging countries based on their gold medal hauls:

—They only play the national anthems of gold medal-winning athletes; the loser nations have to stand there and listen.

—Finland won four bronzes but just one gold in Pyeongchang. You don’t think the Finns would trade all those extra podium appearances for one more spin of “Maamme”?

—”Maamme” is a jam.


—Gold medalists will forever be introduced at parties as a “gold medalist,” not an “Olympic medalist” or (God forbid) an “Olympian.”

—Silver and bronze medals are glorified participation trophies. If NFL linebacker James Harrison sees your ice-dancing silver medals, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, he will throw them (and you) in the trash.


—Getting Cash 4 Gold is as easy as making a phone call. You ever try getting Cash 4 Bronze?

The case for judging countries based on their total medal count:

—A country that stacks the podium should get credit for its depth of talent. If a nation produces one decent speedskater, good for her or him. If a nation can produce a veritable army of great speedskaters, we should acknowledge and celebrate its suspicious commitment to speedskating.


—When Canada and Germany tied for first place in the two-man bobsled, both squads got gold medals. No silver medals were awarded in the event, meaning fewer silvers than golds were awarded at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Not only did this dull the symbolic luster of Pyeongchang gold, a flooded market also means the literal value of a 2018 gold medal was cheapened. Due to this imbalance, silver can be considered the gold standard at these Olympics.

—People are more likely to assume a gold medalist is taking performance-enhancing drugs. That probably makes winning gold a bit of a drag, especially if you’re not taking performance-enhancing drugs. No one suspects bronze medalists. At worst, they’ll be asked to provide the answer keys for urine tests.


—All medalists are given the same stuffed animals. There is no plushy hierarchy; they are all equally fun to squeeze and would make for great tea party guests alongside Mr. Bungles Bear and Madame Elephant-in-a-Raincoat.

—If you win a gold medal, you’re expected to defend it at the next games. What if you have other plans?

—In one million years, we’ll be dead and all the precious metals will either have decayed or been melted into alloys for space weaponry. Nothing levels the playing field like a good ol’ fashioned Galaxy War.

Verdict: In the name of fairness, total medal count is the only way to go. And besides, whether you won a gold medal in Pyeongchang or had to settle for silver or bronze, we can all agree that the real losers of the Olympics are all the fourth-place finishers.

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Pyeongchang Olympics.

Gold, Silver, Bronze, Plush: The Winter Olympics Stuffed Animal Ceremony, Explained

I Long for the Days When the Winter Olympics Mascot Was an Abstract Monster

Is Figure Skating Stuffed Animal Wrangler the Best Job at the Olympics?