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USA, Canada ride new sports to top of Winter Olympics medal count

The USA and Canada have become major players in the Winter Olympics medal count mostly because new sports, such as short track and snowboarding, have been introduced since 1992. A breakdown of which sports have benefited which countries the most.

By Staff writer / February 25, 2010

The women's short track teams from China (white), Canada (red), and America (blue) celebrate finishing first, second, and third, respectively, in the relay race Wednesday night at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia. The result showed how new sports are recasting the medal table.

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Vancouver, British Columbia

Wednesday night was the perfect example of how drastically the Winter Olympics have changed during the past 20 years.

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In the three evening medal events, the medalists were from:

Canada, Canada, USA; China, Canada, USA; Australia, China, China.

Not a Germany or a Russia in the bunch.

The reason?

Each of the events contested Wednesday night has been added since 1992, when the International Olympic Committee began its quest to remake the Winter Olympics.

The first and most obvious step in this process was to move the Winter Games to a new four-year cycle, giving them breathing space from their summer cousin. But by far the more transformational step was to begin admitting events that would broaden the Winter Olympics beyond their traditional appeal to people who find lederhosen not at all peculiar.

Among the events added were those contested Wednesday night: women’s bobsled, short track speedskating, and freestyle aerials.

A revolution, by the numbers

From 1992 to 2006, the medal table for new, non-cross-country skiing-related events shows how complete the IOC’s success has been:

1. USA: 16-14-14 – 44
2. Canada: 13-17-12 – 42
3. South Korea: 17-7-5 – 29
4. China: 4-12-7 – 23

It is the single biggest reason that the US has won more Winter Olympic medals than any country except Germany during the past two Olympics. And it is why Canada even considered it possible to own the podium.

The new-sport medal table for the Vancouver Games is, if anything, even starker. In the events that have finished:

1. USA: 3-2-8 – 13
2. Canada: 5-5-0 – 10
3. China: 3-1-1 – 5
4. Korea: 2-2-1 – 5
5. Australia: 2-1-0 – 3

The Olympics have essentially become two different Olympics, with the US and Canada competing for supremacy in the new events, and Germany and Norway competing for supremacy in the traditional ones.

Of course, there is crossover, such as the US winning eight medals in alpine skiing. Meanwhile, the Europeans’ best “new” events – snowboard parallel giant slalom and curling – still lie ahead in Vancouver.

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