July 19, 2012

Nate Silver isn't cynical enough

Nate Silver, a baseball statistics analyst turned electoral analyst, has an article in the NYT Magazine entitled "Let's Play Medalball."
It’s been almost a decade since the publication of “Moneyball,” Michael Lewis’s famous book-turned-movie about how the small-market Oakland Athletics used statistical artistry to compete against their (much) richer rivals. Billy Beane is still the A’s general manager, but here’s a modest proposal for his next act. He could become the head of another budget-strapped sports organization like, say, the Olympic Committee of Kyrgyzstan — or another small-market country with limited resources. Bishkek is nice this time of year! 
How might Beane turn “moneyball” into “medalball”? Channeling him, I’ve identified three measures that, when weighted equally, suggest the sports in which the Kyrgyzstans of the world could direct their energy and resources to maximize their medal count.

The underlying problem with Silver's suggestions is a lack of cynicism. Anybody familiar with Olympic history would realize that lots of countries have tried to maximize medals over the years, often with much success.

The most obvious strategy is one followed by East Germany and China: it's much easier to win medals in women's events. Outside of gymnastics and a few other sports, the number of girls who, deep down inside, really want to do what it takes to win is smaller. So, focus on macho sports for women, such as women's weightlifting.

I recall an interview with a lady shotputter from China at a recent Olympics. She said she'd always wanted to be a veterinarian when she was a child, but a bunch of state athletic experts came to her elementary school, measured all the children in various ways, and then told her she was going to grow up to be a shotputter. She didn't want to be a shotputter, she wanted to be a veterinarian, but nobody cared about her opinion. So, now she was a lady shotputter.

Women's Olympic sports are full of uplifting and empowering stories like that.

Also, as East Germany demonstrated, giving your women lots of male hormones helps more than giving your men lots of male hormones.

For sports, such as "women's" gymnastics that have a minimum age for female competitors, because T&A slows down how fast a girl can spin, lie (as China does).

It also helps to have a totalitarian system. For example, Cuba is a poor country, but it wins lots of Olympic medals. One reason is because the government channels youths into various Olympic sports, instead of letting them all play soccer like in other countries. Cuba is too small to win the soccer World Cup, but it can win gold at less popular sports.

82 comments:

Silver said...

Cuba is too small to win the soccer World Cup, but it can win gold at less popular sports.

It's three times bigger than Uruguay, and yet looks who's won. Some other countries easily "big enough" to win it (and would dearly like to) haven't even come close.

*This is a different Silver (not Nate), in case anyone's wondering.

Ed said...

A World Cup victory would be a bigger propeganda coup for any country than a bunch of Olympic medals. For some reason, the Communist sports bureaucracies never grasped this. Many of the Central and Eastern European countries could have competed.

Uruguay is not a good example because their victories came in the early decades of the World Cup, when it wasn't as big a deal and flukey upsets could and did happen. The US soccer team actually beat England in one of those tournaments, and unlike now the situation at that time was that no native born Americans played soccer.

Steve Sailer said...

The World Cup has always (?) been for professional soccer players, while the Communists exploited Olympic amateurism by giving all their professional athletes jobs in the military or schools where they just trained full time. So, the Communist countries had a comparative advantage at ease of cheating in amateur sports, not in soccer or, say, golf.

Anonymous said...

Women's Olympic sports are full of uplifting and empowering stories like that.

Also, as East Germany demonstrated, giving your women lots of male hormones helps more than giving your men lots of male hormones.


Here's a report from Deutsche Welle about doping in East Germany. One of the former female shotputters for E. Germany was supplied with such heavy steroid use that she's a balding, middle-aged man now:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JC3DnDKEf18

Anonymous said...

The Soviets fielded good basketball teams. I think they were the only ones that could really compete with the American teams. Why didn't they do the same for soccer?

Steve Sailer said...

Because the Soviets were sending adult pro basketball players to compete with American amateur college players. America didn't send pros to the Olympics until after the Soviet team with Sabonis and Marschiulenis (sp?) beat American college boys like David Robinson fair and square in 1988. (Of course, the best Soviet players tended to be Lithuanians, which became independent.)

Steve Sailer said...

It's really, really hard to win the World Cup in soccer. The same countries win all the time, with Spain now finally moving up into the top rank after decades of modernization. The Soviet commissars made the smart choice not to put all their eggs in the soccer basket.

Anonymous said...

Yes but they weren't really "pro" were they? Were there pro leagues in the USSR? Even if there were, would they have been as good competition as American college ball?

Anonymous said...

"uplifting and empowering" - love it.

Anonymous said...

Soccer players aren't exceptionally tall, large, strong, fast (like lanky sprinters), etc. though. The Soviets probably could have gotten good players out of the pool of medium sized athletic guys that get overlooked for very specialized things like sprinting, weightlifting, etc.

Anonymous said...

Israel had good basketball team in the 70s.

Anonymous said...

There's also a decent amount of luck involved in soccer since it's so hard to score. The better team can play a better game but never score, and then lose the game on penalty kicks.

Steve Sailer said...

"There's also a decent amount of luck involved in soccer since it's so hard to score."

I used to believe that, too, but the list of World Cup victors doesn't support that idea. The same superpowers win over and over. Spain's first-time victory in 2010 didn't reflect luck, but the long rise of a new superpower.

Silver said...

Uruguay is not a good example because their victories came in the early decades of the World Cup, when it wasn't as big a deal and flukey upsets could and did happen.

It wasn't as big a deal to fans and national governments, perhaps, but surely it was to the players themselves. I think the fact that the same teams that dominate or are considered strong today are more less the same teams that dominated or were strong back in the early days is pretty telling. So as tempting as it is to discount Uruguay, I'm not sure it's a good idea. And after all, small as they are they made the semis in 2010.

USA beating England was a major upset but there really weren't very many others.

Anonymous said...

It's three times bigger than Uruguay, and yet looks who's won.


Uruguay has won the World Cup in soccer - most recently in 1950. That's sixty two years ago. Germany was not even allowed to participate. Your argument does not hold water.

Anonymous said...

There's also a decent amount of luck involved in soccer since it's so hard to score. The better team can play a better game but never score, and then lose the game on penalty kicks.


Spoken like somebody who does not understand soccer. If you don't score more than the opposition, you're not the better team.

The most recent illustration of this was the Chelsea/Barcelona clash in the Champions League. Barca dominated in all the statistical categories except the one that mattered - they were outscored 3 to 2.

Luck? Chelsea have an outstanding record against Barcelona going back a dozen years. That's a lot of luck.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Any individual game of futbol has a lot of luck, as does baseball. Superiority shows over a collection of games. This is far less true in American football, just as an example.

Anonymous said...

Spain's first-time victory in 2010 didn't reflect luck, but the long rise of a new superpower.


Yes, Spain also won the last two European championships.

Silver said...

Israel had good basketball team in the 70s.

They have had strong club teams too. Macabi Tel Aviv is far and away the msot dominant and has won multiple Euroleague titles and is a perennial contender, but they don't win the Israeli league every season, so there is some depth there in that league.

The same superpowers win over and over. Spain's first-time victory in 2010 didn't reflect luck, but the long rise of a new superpower.

There's a core circle of three great teams -- Italy, Brazil, Germany -- that hasn't changed for decades. Around that is a satellite of 2nd tier greats from which teams drift in and out. Spain's currently in, while, say, France is currently out. That's how I see it.

NKVD Spellcheck Commissar said...

because T&A slows down how fast a girl can spin

I'm pretty sure that that should be plural [not singular]: "T&A slow down..."

On the other hand, maybe it's just a matter of taste.

anony-mouse said...

So many countries give their athletes hormones/steroids.

Other than gender that's different from modern baseball because?

Anonymous said...

Any individual game of futbol has a lot of luck, as does baseball. Superiority shows over a collection of games.

Yeah but baseball plays series of games for playoffs and championships. They don't do that in soccer.

Anonymous said...

"but a bunch of state athletic experts came to her elementary school, measured all the children in various ways, and then told her she was going to grow up to be a shotputter."

I don't know many people in America who do what they want to do.

astorian said...

As Steve notes, the Soviet blco was able to dominate medal counts for many years precisely because they could decide what sports their best athletes would pursue.

The USA had lots of guys strong enough to be shot putters, Greco-Roman wrestlers and weightlifters, but as a rule, the guys strong enough to do that became guards and tackles in the NFL, because that was where the money was!

Anonymous said...

The Soviets won the first European Championship in soccer in 1960 and finished 2nd in 64, 72 and 88. They were 4th in 68. That's almost as difficult to win as the WC.

Anonymous said...

"Spoken like somebody who does not understand soccer. If you don't score more than the opposition, you're not the better team."

I agree, but how come I always hear the pundits say this or that team was better and they deserved to win even if they lost.

Sometimes a team will get a lucky break from a bad call like Germany did against England in the WC and the announcers will say yes Germany got lucky but they were dominating the game. I don't like that analysis.The only thing that counts is a goal.

If Germany was dominating, how could England have tied the game 2-2 before half time. Germany's first goal was lucky because they got a big bounce.

It is true a weaker team can win a single game in a cup, but not be the better team over the long haul.

You could say Barca were lucky a couple of years ago when the won the semifinal against Chelsea. Barca had that late goal that put them through on away goals.

Anonymous said...

Remind me why the steroid-fueled Olympics are so important. A colossal bore. The stadium architects should get the medals. What ever happened to the World's Fair? At least it left the world the Eiffel Tower. And people got to see some really cool stuff, made by smart people, who didn't need steroids to be admired.

Anonymous said...

T&A =/= Testosterone & Aggression

Anonymous said...

Maximizing Olympic medal count? Easy-peasy. Just find a couple of people who can swim well. There are 16,377 swimming events at the Olympics, which means that the swimming medals represent about 80% of the total Olympic medals. And what's more, they all can be won by the same person!

Fortunately, the Americans have this figured out, which is why they are always #1 in the medal count. Go USA!

William Boot said...

The other key is to focus on sports that hand out lots of medals. Winning the one and only gold in men's basketball requires 12 people to play for two solid weeks, but in many events, a single person can win a handful of medals.

Anonymous said...

I feel sorry for you Steve, what a bunch of dumb comments. But then what can say, except to be dumbly contrarian.
O
The weird thing about the Olympics is it includes so many sports no one cares about. Who cares who the "Flyweight" boxing champion is? Hell, I could probably beat him up. Or which black guy beats the other 6 black guys by running 1 second faster in the 200m dash?

Beecher Asbury said...

East Germany also had another strategy. Don't waste your time on team sports since all those athletes working as a team can only win one medal. Instead of fielding a competitive basketball, hockey or soccer team, use those athletes in multiple other sports to maximize total medal potential.

Anonymous said...

Wait a second, I'm confused. Based on previous posts I'm just supposed to accept whatever crappy product or service union employees are willing to deliver to me - especially if they are public employee unions. Because, according to Steve, that is not only genius politics but the American way. But I'm sensing here that Steve might be a little suspicious about encroachments upon human freedom. I guess if they're not actually American citizens then their freedom matters.

Anonymous said...

"The World Cup has always (?) been for professional soccer players, "

No, It originally was for amateurs and England wanted it to have pro players in it, but the WC organizers said no pros. so England didn't participate in the first 3 WC's.

Italy cheated and brought their pro players to the WC and won in 34 and 38. These early WC's are meaningless.

The eventually had pros. I assume in 1950, but am not positive.

England didn't even enter the first Euro in 1960.

Another dubious win by Italy was the 68 Euros because they "beat" the Soviets in the semifinal with a coin flip.There were no penalty kicks.

The final game had a replay because the fist game tied.

Douglas Knight said...

Your comment perfectly complements Silver's plan: Beane (or whoever) could follow a well-worn playbook under the cover of "moneyball."

Anonymous said...

anony-mouse:"So many countries give their athletes hormones/steroids.

Other than gender that's different from modern baseball because?"

I guess if you use gender when you mean sex, there really is no difference...

RWF said...

Uruguay's world cup victories were a long time ago,but even right now they are ranked 3rd in the world by FIFA- they are still far and away the biggest over performers, based on population size*, in the game.

*In fact you have to go all the way down the list to 34th to find a country smaller than Uruguay.

Whiskey said...

Steve -- the FT had an article about how Britain has used "identify and train" competitors in less popular sports, to great success: track cycling, road cycling (Wiggins came out of the track cycling world), sailing, etc.

You don't have to be totalitarian. Just identify good athletes and give them training starting in the mid teens in less popular sports like fencing, archery, etc.

ben tillman said...

Sarunas Marciulionis.

jody said...

"Also, as East Germany demonstrated, giving your women lots of male hormones helps more than giving your men lots of male hormones."

african women from the US were on just as many drugs. don't kid yourself. note how many of the women's track & field records are from the 80s 90s drug era. most of them. times and distances which the best athletes today are not even close to matching. records that it seems will stand forever. the marita koch 400 meters record is ludicrous. even considering the drugs it's seriously amazing.

the jamaicans today are on heavy drugs. good drugs too, hard to detect. probably lots of TRT. but they're using plenty of banned substances just the same. i was agnostic for a few years on them, now it's obvious. it's not like there aren't athletes here and there from various other nations using banned substances but the jamaican track team right now is one of the worst ever. a nation with 2 million people doesn't do what they're doing, not in a highly competitive sport like track & field. they're good, but not this good.

"There's also a decent amount of luck involved in soccer since it's so hard to score."

it's true that random stuff happens, so in any 1 game, things can get crazy. but over time it averages out. and what we see is that the same 5 or 6 teams win the tournaments over and over. it's definitely not luck.

lionel messi is a dual citizen of argentina and spain. at one point, he had to make a decision about which national team to play for. if he had picked spain...they probably would be the world cup and euro champion for the next 2 or 3 cycles.

picking argentina ensured that his legacy will be greatly reduced. their present team simply is not good enough to win major tournaments, and he'll retire the dan marino of soccer.

jody said...

as for nate silver, that's not a completely bad set of ideas, but his first cursory analysis leads him directly into a major error. he gets it exactly backwards on wrestling. it's one of the hardest sports to medal in. the US has a huge high school program with about 230,000 high school participants per year, making it the number 6 sport by participation rate in the entire united states, a nation with 300 million people and a per capita GPD of $48,000.

then the good wrestlers get scholarships to compete in NCAA wrestling for 4 years, where the best DI recruits go to the major university programs where the head coaches are paid $150,000 to $250,000 a year to do nothing but train guys to win wrestling matches.

but even with all that, at the world championships and olympic games, americans can barely medal in wrestling anymore. an NCAA champion like brock lesnar WOULD NOT EVEN MAKE IT TO THE OLYMPICS, let alone even be able to get a bronze medal.

jody said...

so you have nate silver saying "Well if you're a small country, the best target is wrestling." oh, so small countries have plenty of guys hanging around who are better athletes than lesnar and dan cormier and randy couture? great athletes who could not even medal? it puts into perspective how good kurt angle was, and by extension, how good the international field actually is.

eastern europeans dominate wrestling, because they don't really have a sport like rugby or american football to take all the big tough guys. this is also why they dominate boxing.

wrestling is a big international sport. it's MUCH bigger than boxing. it's so big that most of the "invincible black superhumans" on the 2012 american team will have trouble winning more than 2 or 3 matches in london. 1 or 2 guys will medal, that's about it. jordan burroughs and jake varner were the only guys who medalled at the 2011 world championships.

no small random country is going to jump into wrestling and medal easily. boxing would actually be a better sport to try for medalball. the amateur boxing participation rate is LOW.

Anonymous said...

it's clear which isteve readers know soccer and which don't. Uruguay is undeniably a powerhouse. They made it so the semis in the WC and diego forlan was the golden boot.


Also- whiskey has made a great point about the british track cycling program. The uk decided they were going to go out and dominate track cycling (which is many events with a 99% overlap in skills) which is nice because it also gives the tour de france winners.
whiskey, did you know cav, froome and millar were also from that same program?

Peter A said...

A World Cup victory would be a bigger propeganda coup for any country than a bunch of Olympic medals. For some reason, the Communist sports bureaucracies never grasped this.

They did grasp it. The Communist countries were major soccer powers - the USSR won the European Championship in 1960, and was a top team for most of that decade. Their league teams like Dynamo Kiev and Spartak won plenty of European cups. Czechoslovakia was strong through the 1970s, even beating West Germany for the European Championship in 1972. Yugoslavia was always strong, and their league teams (like Red Star Belgrade) racked up a lot of European titles as well. I don't know if Communism was at fault per se. Post Communism all these nations have arguably done worse at soccer. But hell, even countries where soccer is the number one sport (England) haven't done that well for decades. Becoming a soccer power is a complicated task.

jody said...

note above i am not talking about women wrestling. women don't care about wrestling. it would be relatively easy to develop some women who could get a bronze here or there. women boxing, wow. that would have to be one of the easiest of all. no women box.

the problem is that there are only 4 real sports at the summer games. track & field, swimming & diving, wrestling, and boxing. then volleyball and gymnastics are below that, and the rest are not even minor sports. stuff which almost nobody plays. international participation rate is the most important thing here.

note i'm excluding the ball sports which have professional leagues and yearly seasons. soccer, basketball, and tennis are all real sports but the olympic tournaments simply use the pros now, except for soccer, where it's an under 23 event, and only a few pros. the americans did not even make it to the olympics in soccer and were eliminated during qualification.

silver is right on things like olympic lifting. that's not even a minor sport. almost nobody does olympic lifting. most of the world does powerlifting or strongman, and nobody takes those seriously, relatively speaking. the thing is...no americans made it to the olympics in olympic lifting. they weren't good enough to even quality. well, one guy did as an individual, after the US olympic lifting team was eliminated during qualifying. so even in a sport that's "easy" to medal in, the biggest sporting nation can't even send a team.

if you're serious about medalball then you want to pick a sport which almost nobody is playing. silver says field hockey is a bad bet because it gives you so little bang for the buck...but nobody plays field hockey. think about lacrosse, then reduce the participation rate by a factor of 10. at that point you're almost down into non-sports like synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics.

this is how south korean women came to dominate competitive golf. not only do few people play competitive golf worldwide, because it's the most expensive sport in the world, but no women are interested in golf, and very few play it. the biggest nation for women's golf is the US...and in america women's lacrosse is bigger than women's golf. so in reality, back in 1995, all the fat white lesbian women "dominating" LPGA play were just essentially the only people on earth who even wanted to play. it was barely a competitive sport at all. the money was great for a women's sport, so you have all the factors in order for a new group to come in and take the sport over. and the south korean women did, utterly. it's definitely not the case that they're great at golf, and more simply that nobody else was taking golf seriously.

Anonymous said...

Do we have to talk about soccer?

jody said...

"The USA had lots of guys strong enough to be shot putters, Greco-Roman wrestlers and weightlifters, but as a rule, the guys strong enough to do that became guards and tackles in the NFL, because that was where the money was"

the US has the best shotput throwers right now. christian cantwell has the furthest throw in the world in 2012 and an american, randy barnes, has the world record, although it's a drug record. americans have dominated shotput for decades.

the football thing is somewhat true, although there was not much money in american football until 1988 or 1989. so it wasn't pulling out nearly as many potential wrestlers, weightlifters, and throwers between 1920 and 1990 as it does today. in 1990, the highest paid guy in the entire NFL was only making 1 million dollars a year.

stephen neal was the NCAA wrestling champion in 1999 and the (real) world wrestling champion the same year, in freestyle. in 2000 he switched to american football and played guard for the patriots and was on 3 superbowl winning teams. an earlier NCAA champion, carlton haselrig, also played guard the NFL, for the steelers, where he was a pro bowler, although overall less successful than neal at wrestling as well as football.

later NCAA champions like steve mocco and cole konrad tried out for the NFL and never made it. brock lesnar could have made the vikings, but they wanted him to play NFL Europe for 1 year to learn how to play defensive end, which he declined to do, so he never played a regular season snap. his NFL career was limited to 4 pre-season games.

jody said...

olympic lifting and powerlifting don't pay anything. but strongman pays a little. the arnold event pays $55,000 to the winner and the world's strongest man pays, i think, $100,000. that's not much but it's above zero like the other strength sports. and those purses are paid out every year so if you're one of the best you can, sort of, have a 10 year career.

a couple months ago i posted that there were few good strength athletes who were british, but the guy who won world's strongest man last year, brian shaw, is an american who is probably english or scottish.

he is ridiculously large, 6-8 and 400 pounds, and not yet at his peak strength yet. it would be interesting to see if he could beat mariusz pudzianowski, who left strongman after winning world's strongest man 5 times. pudzianowski switched to MMA in 2009, where a lot of football players and wrestlers who hit the ceiling in their sport go these days. he makes over $100,000 per match in his native poland, so it's more money for less work, and he'll never go back to strongman, even though he was one of the best of all-time there and he's merely average in fighting.

the thing is, brian shaw played basketball and football and stalled out at the NCAA level, never making it to even minor league pro play, so if he could play those sports for money he would have. then again, i don't see any american football players even approaching his strength levels, so it's a similar situation to track & field. the fastest sprinters can't play NFL level football...but no NFL player is even close to as fast as them either.

Anonymous said...

the problem is that there are only 4 real sports at the summer games. track & field, swimming & diving, wrestling, and boxing. then volleyball and gymnastics are below that, and the rest are not even minor sports. stuff which almost nobody plays. international participation rate is the most important thing here.

Weightlifting is more of a real sport than boxing or wrestling.

Anonymous said...

almost nobody does olympic lifting. most of the world does powerlifting or strongman

It's really just the US. In the rest of the world where powerlifting or strongman are big, Olympic weightlifting is even bigger. The guys who aren't good enough at Oly lifting or are too big, obese, unathletic but still strong, quit Oly lifting and shift to powerlifting or strongman.

Anonymous said...

"Uruguay is not a good example because their victories came in the early decades of the World Cup, when it wasn't as big a deal and flukey upsets could and did happen."

Complete garbage comment made by someone who knows nothing about soccer. Uruguay won the Olympic gold medal in football in 1924 and 1928 - which is why FIFA chose Uruguay to host the first World Cup in 1930. Uruguay won that, making it three in a row, so to speak. Twenty years later Uruguay won the World Cup again, in 1950, in Brazil. That ain't a fluke.

"The US soccer team actually beat England in one of those tournaments, and unlike now the situation at that time was that no native born Americans played soccer."

Absolutely false. The English press whined and lied a lot after their upset loss to the USA, but the 1950 USA team was mostly composed of native born US citizens, and those few who weren't had declared their intentions to become US citizens, which made them eligible for the US team.

The USA team did fairly well in the 1930 World Cup, since it was composed of professional players and the USA was still benefiting from the effects of the original American Soccer League. There were some foreign born players (mostly Scots) who had come over to play in the ASL, but again the team was composed of US citizens (or those intending to become US citizens) with plenty of native born players.

The idea that no native born Americans played soccer back in the 1950s is typical American ignorance. Soccer has been played in the USA since the 1880s (and much earlier if you include "soccer-like" football games), by both immigrants and native born. The fact that your average American Joe Sports Fan is unaware of this fact doesn't make it not so.

"Do we have to talk about soccer?"

I'm not sure which is worse: iSteve commenters talking about soccer without knowing anything about it (hint: watching the World Cup every four years does not make you informed on the subject), or those who are always whining about the fact that soccer is being discussed at all (hint: no one forced you to read this).

"Yeah but baseball plays series of games for playoffs and championships. They don't do that in soccer."

Yes they do. Again, someone who only knows about soccer from watching the World Cup every four years. The two game series (home and away, with all goals counted as though it were a single game) is a very common format in club soccer tournaments. Also, the league championships are simply a round robin tournament with everyone playing everyone else once at home and once away. It's a series that eliminates chance or flukes - which is why the same teams tend to win their league year after year. If more American iSteve commentors watched the EPL they'd get this. Soccer over the long term (a single season, or many seasons) is very predictable. It is only individual games that can sometimes be flukey.

""The World Cup has always (?) been for professional soccer players, "

No, It originally was for amateurs and England wanted it to have pro players in it, but the WC organizers said no pros. so England didn't participate in the first 3 WC's."

Absolutely incorrect. FIFA created the World Cup as a professional competition precisely because soccer was ceasing to be an amateur sport in many countries in Europe and Latin America and thus the Olympic competition was no longer seen as a fair test of a country's soccer talent. The rest of your comments about England not participating in the first three World Cups is complete gibberish. England weren't members of FIFA at the time due to obscure disputes about the definition of amateurism which had nothing to do with the World Cup, which was from the very beginning a professional, not an amateur, competition.

Anonymous said...

"It also helps to have a totalitarian system. For example, Cuba is a poor country, but it wins lots of Olympic medals. One reason is because the government channels youths into various Olympic sports, instead of letting them all play soccer like in other countries. Cuba is too small to win the soccer World Cup, but it can win gold at less popular sports."

Baseball is the popular sport in Cuba, Steve, not soccer. Soccer has been growing in popularity in Cuba but if the Cuban communist sports authorities were worried about a popular sport taking kids away from potential Olympic medal sports, that sport would be baseball, not soccer.

Anonymous said...

"if you're serious about medalball then you want to pick a sport which almost nobody is playing. silver says field hockey is a bad bet because it gives you so little bang for the buck...but nobody plays field hockey. think about lacrosse, then reduce the participation rate by a factor of 10. at that point you're almost down into non-sports like synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics."

I wish iSteve commentators would learn a little something about sports outside the USA before making ignorant comments like this.

"Field" hockey (just plain old "hockey" outside North America) is a huge international men's sport and has been for over a century. It never got as popular as soccer or rugby, but everywhere the British showed up, field hockey is still played today. That's why it has been an Olympic sport since 1908.

Internationally, field hockey dwarfs lacrosse. It's not even close. Lacrosse is a minor sport in North America, with tiny, extremely tiny, participation in a few other countries (Australia, England, etc). Lacrosse has zero chance of becoming an Olympic sport any time soon because its international footprint is too small.

IStevians: You've got to get beyond your myopia about US sports. It is only in the USA that field hockey is considered a women's sport, and a minor one at that. Outside the USA it has always been a men's sport, with the women coming along later. Just because more people play lacrosse in the USA than field hockey, doesn't mean squat outside the USA. Even if you poured resources into men's field hockey in the USA, it would take decades to produce results because the rest of the world is far, far ahead of us. It would not be a good investment if all you cared about were numbers of medals.

Outside the USA, field hockey is a major international sport, a few levels below rugby and cricket in popularity, but still popular; whereas lacrosse hardly exists at all in comparison. Field hockey isn't a huge spectator sport, but it is a big sport in terms of participation. In the Netherlands it is a professional sport. It's a big sport in Europe and East Asia. It's a big sport in South Asia (India and Pakistan used to dominate before astroturf was introduced). Just because this is invisible to North Americans doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

USA =/= World.

Anonymous said...

http://darwinianconservatism.blogspot.com/2012/07/the-first-darwinian-left.html

Anonymous said...

http://darwinianconservatism.blogspot.com/2012/07/confucian-constitution-for-china.html

Silver said...

Complete garbage comment made by someone who knows nothing about soccer. Uruguay won the Olympic gold medal in football in 1924 and 1928 - which is why FIFA chose Uruguay to host the first World Cup in 1930. Uruguay won that, making it three in a row, so to speak. Twenty years later Uruguay won the World Cup again, in 1950, in Brazil. That ain't a fluke.

Uruguay has also won the highest number of Copa America tournaments. True, the victories are weighted towards earlier decades, but they have won four tournaments since the time during which soccer indisputably became big business, in 83, 87, 95 and 2011, which is second only to Brazil (with 5). Any way you look at it, it's pretty impressive. (They are something of a Serbia of soccer.)

Jim O said...

A proposal: If the Olymic gold medal is no the most prestigious award in a sport, it shouldnt be in the Olympics. Who's the reigning Plymic champion in, say, women's tennis. Don't know, do you? Even if you're a tennis buff. I bet she barely remembers,herself. And I'll bet she'd trade the medal for a Wimbledon dish.

If Basketball were a winter Olympic sport, the NBA wouldn't shut down for it. And they'd be right.

Charlesz Martel said...

I have a female friend who was a gymnast in her youth. She attended a "gymnastics camp" as part of a US-Soviet "peaceful co-existence" thing in the '70's, and became friends with Nadia Comaneci )(they were both pre-pubescent at the time).

She told me that Nadia was nice, but very poorly educated- she could barely read, as all her time was spent training. She also said she had lots of fine body hair all over her (due to the hormones she was being pumped full of). It was obvious to a young girl that something was wrong- but apparently not so obvious to those who pass for journalists in the west.

Anonymous said...

T&A =/= Testosterone & Aggression

No.

But "*its and *ss" sure does sound plural to me - not singular.

Anonymous said...

"If you don't score more than the opposition, you're not the better team"

Nonsense. I think it's you who don't understand football. Chelsea were the worst side in both the final and the semis of the Champions League.

(Interesting parallel with the last Rugby World Cup, in which the better team (Wales) lost the semis against France, and the better team (France) lost in the finals against New Zealand (helped by an "accidental" NZ knee that injured a key French player).

Anonymous said...

Anyone find a link to the chineses shot put story? I'd love to post that in my circles.

Glaivester said...

So many countries give their athletes hormones/steroids.

Other than gender that's different from modern baseball because?


That's the point. The Olympics are very much the same as baseball in this aspect, contra Nate Silver.

african women from the US were on just as many drugs. don't kid yourself. note how many of the women's track & field records are from the 80s 90s drug era. most of them. times and distances which the best athletes today are not even close to matching. records that it seems will stand forever. the marita koch 400 meters record is ludicrous. even considering the drugs it's seriously amazing.

Steve has mentioned this before. I think the point is that East Germany pioneered female steroid use, although the U.S. quickly caught up.

Anonymous said...

Small countries can do well in sports, if they focus exclusively on one sport. New Zealand, population 4.5 million, is a major powerhouse in rugby, perhaps the best country in the world at it. Rugby is for all intents and purposes the national sport, and even Kiwi women can explain all the rules of the game to you.

Anonymous said...

how come I always hear the pundits say this or that team was better and they deserved to win even if they lost.


You don't "always" hear that. You hear it sometimes in every sport - baseball, American football, basketball, whatever. Sometimes it's true, in all sports.

Sometimes the pundits just like the way Team A plays over the way Team B plays. In soccer as in other sports, there are different styles of play, and proponents of of those different styles of play. Think fast-break vs half-court basketball. To people who like the way Barcelona play, every time Barca lose it will mean that the better team lost.


Sometimes a team will get a lucky break from a bad call like Germany did against England in the WC


I see bad officiating calls every year in the Super Bowl. So?

el supremo said...

re: Soccer and gaming the sports system

Communist and centralized sports model counties have generally underperformed in soccer - their structured model doesn't fit as well. China is truly dismal at football. Something about the individual sports academy training model of the communist sports sytem doesn't translate well into cohesive soccer teams.

Cohesive teams overperform, even when they are from small countries. As others said, look at little uruguay which did very well in the last world cup and won Copa America. Even watching Parguay in recent cups - a tight team of Guarani indians with no stars ran international players into ground.

Anonymous said...

Its Cubans blacks that win medals mainly in Track and Field or Volleyball or Baseball mixed racial group there or boxing, only 2 in swimming. Japan even has more medals in swimming than Cuba. Poor countries usually don't have many 50 meter pools.

Anonymous said...

Most guys that go out for Football could not due the Field events at the Olympics, In fact Football players usually run track and don't due field events. Being heavy doesn't mean you have the ability to due Javelin or Shot Put and so forth.

Jim Oliver said...

I think it can be boiled down to focus on what is not popular. The most popular sport in the USSR was hockey but even with a huge population advantage they were not much better than the Canadians but they could do great in the Olympics.

Jim Oliver said...

Another thing about the Soviet win in Basketball was that the rules in Olympic basketball were sufficiently different that it made a big difference.

beta_plus said...

Nobody in the US cared about soccer during the Cold War, so it would have been a useless propaganda stunt even if the Communists could have pulled it off.

The Warsaw Pact could have won every single World Cup from 1946 to 1990 and almost every single American would have said "Who Cares?"

Steve Sailer said...

I bought a cheap set of field hockey sticks when I was 15 and got my friends to play it a couple of times. It was fun. Not as fun as ice hockey, but a lot more practical in L.A. where ice rinks were in such extreme demand that we could only play ice hockey from, say 1am to 3am. The association with girl preppies, not that we knew any, probably prevented us from pursuing the sport farther, but I have fond memories of it.

I saw the Olympic gold medal final in men's field hockey in 1984: Pakistan 1 Australia 0. As a spectator sport, the game suffered from refs blowing the action dead constantly due (I believe) to offsides calls. Loosen that up and you'd have a sport as least as fun to watch as soccer and not so hard to watch on TV as ice hockey, which is just too fast.

Why isn't India good at field hockey anymore?

Anonymous said...

even beating West Germany for the European Championship in 1972

1976. Uli Höneß sucks.

There's a core circle of three great teams -- Italy, Brazil, Germany -- that hasn't changed for decades.

Germany just left that circle because they decided to play like the Netherlands: 11 very good lone warriors (including the replacements) and all of them are waiting for the other 10 players to give them the ball. Just look how Cassano was able to play to ball even though there were three players around him. Just look how no one bothered to attack Pirlo before.

Look here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=CQj71Qq1_4I#t=47s
Where are the other five German players?

Anonymous said...

"There's a core circle of three great teams -- Italy, Brazil, Germany -- that hasn't changed for decades."

The interesting thing about that list is why? In caricature terms those countries represent almost opposite characteristics. I wonder if they are at the top for the same reasons or because each represents the pinnacle of one set of reasons for winning?

.
"eastern europeans dominate wrestling, because they don't really have a sport like rugby or american football to take all the big tough guys. this is also why they dominate boxing."

Interesting thought. Although a lot of the toughest men i've known were ex-boxers, the majority were ex-Rugby players.

Anonymous said...

" think it can be boiled down to focus on what is not popular. The most popular sport in the USSR was hockey but even with a huge population advantage they were not much better than the Canadians but they could do great in the Olympics."

Maybe you need a certain size of a country to produce enough players to compete at the highest level and after that the top players are redundant. The big country would have more depth but they couldn't produce any higher quality of player because you can only be so good in sport.

Anonymous said...

"t's a series that eliminates chance or flukes - which is why the same teams tend to win their league year after year. If more American iSteve commentors watched the EPL they'd get this. Soccer over the long term (a single season, or many seasons) is very predictable. It is only individual games that can sometimes be flukey."

A weaker team can beat a better team any given day. I remember a few years ago Barnsley, a second division team, beat Chelsea and Liverpool in back to back games in the FA Cup. They certainly wouldn't have finished ahead of those teams if they had payed in the top division.

What's harder to win the BPL, La Liga or the European Cup? Some say you don't have to beat the top teams in the league to win it. Let's say Barca technically wouldn't have to beat Real Madrid to win the league if they did better over the other games. In the Champions League you will have to beat some top teams, even if it is only by penalties.

In each case lesser clubs don't win either competition very often. Porto was the last smaller club to win the Champions League and they got help on a bad call against Manchester United. Porto is a top team is Portugal, but that is a lesser league than the other top ones.

Anonymous said...

lots of countries have tried to maximize medals over the years, often with much success.

Hungary is a small country, but did very well in Olympic fencing through much of the 20th century.

Anonymous said...

"'m not sure which is worse: iSteve commenters talking about soccer without knowing anything about it (hint: watching the World Cup every four years does not make you informed on the subject), or those who are always whining about the fact that soccer is being discussed at all (hint: no one forced you to read this). '

Since you follow soccer closely what do you think of all the foreign players in Europe? I am tired of all the Brazilian, Africans,etc.. I think there should be a limit of 3 foreign players on each team, not starters, but on the team total. At least there should be much stricter limits and the amount can be discussed. This will still allow players like Messi to play in Europe, but it will keep the mediocre players out. This will allow the native players a chance to play in their country, although the natives in some cases aren't real Italians or English anymore because of immigration. Mario B is a perfect example.

I am tired of seeing Brazilians litter teams from Portugal to the Ukraine to Japan.

Silver said...

The interesting thing about that list is why? In caricature terms those countries represent almost opposite characteristics. I wonder if they are at the top for the same reasons or because each represents the pinnacle of one set of reasons for winning?

That's not a bad way to look at it. I was stretching it a bit with the inclusion of Italy, since they've gone through long stretches of unimpressive performances. But I think the point you make about their being at the pinnacle of one set of reasons for winning merits their inclusion.

Anonymous said...

Why is that every time Steve writes about sports we get all this discussion on Soccer - the most boring sport of all time - except for baseball. Don't all you Brits and Euros have some "futbol" blog you can go to? Kick the ball back and forth - OMG its 1-0; game over. Oh, its all about the kicking the ball and forth, its SO SUBTLE. No it isn't - its freakin' boring. That's why no one in the USA cares except for Gays and SWPL liberals.

Silver said...

What's harder to win the BPL, La Liga or the European Cup? Some say you don't have to beat the top teams in the league to win it. Let's say Barca technically wouldn't have to beat Real Madrid to win the league if they did better over the other games. In the Champions League you will have to beat some top teams, even if it is only by penalties.

Leagues are hard to win than cup competitions. The field used to be much more open in English soccer, but since the inception of the Premier League it's been dominated by only three teams. The FA cup used to be even more wide open, but that too has succumbed to dominance. Nevertheless, you still see small teams reaching the final (they just don't win it).

Other big European leagues like Italy and Spain are dominated by two or three top teams with everyone else pretty much way out of contention. The French and German top leagues are still fairly wide open. But it's in S. American leagues like Brazil's and Argentina's that you see the most turnover in champions and top teams. It's more like American sport in this sense, where teams can suddenly come out of nowhere, win the title or dominate for a while and then disappear again for ages.

Anonymous said...

http://politix.topix.com/homepage/1512-what-we-know-about-the-dark-knight-murder-suspect

gay?

rob said...

Anonymous said...
http://politix.topix.com/homepage/1512-what-we-know-about-the-dark-knight-murder-suspect

gay?


Not like the article had anything to suggest that dude was gay, but if he was, this story will go down the memory hole so fast!