DFL

Celebrating last-place finishes at the Olympics. Because they're there, and you're not.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Stories from the Back of the Pack

Every last-place finish has a story. Here are a few from the Beijing Games:

Brazilian cyclist Luciano Pagliarini was suffering from kidney stones.

British diver Blake Aldridge blamed his synchronized diving partner, 14-year-old Tom Daley, for their last-place finish after Daley "popped off" on Aldridge for talking to his mother on his cellphone during the competition.

South African kayaker Sibonso Cele capsized his canoe and missed a gate in his first run, but put in a clean run the second time around.

Hiroshi Hoketsu's horse was apparently discombobulated by a passing airplane.

Italian cyclist Roberto Chiappa was relegated for elbowing Japan's Kiyofumi Nagai during the race.

Homa Hosseini, last in women's single sculls, is one of several groundbreaking female athletes from Iran.

Colin Jenkins acted as fellow Canadian (and eventual silver medallist) Simon Whitfield's in the men's triathlon.

If you haven't heard any of these stories, I'm not surprised. Last-place finishers only make the news in their home countries, their hometown papers expressing their sympathy while their national media whines about lost medals. Sometimes not even then.

The only times a last-place finish generates international attention is when it's relevant to a national team's chances ("We would have lost except for ...") or truly spectacular in its own right. Usually that's the kind of media coverage
no one wants.

It's part of a larger problem: media coverage can be so overwhelmingly focused on the home team that the big picture is missed. Events in which your country has no chance are ignored. Gold medallists from other countries are only shown to explain why your country's competitor came in 12th (this actually happened with the CBC's coverage of the men's hammer throw). And you'll almost never hear someone else's anthem played at the podium.

I was surprised to spend so much time blogging about the ugly nationalistic side of the Olympics in this round of DFL. The 2008 version of this blog has been the angry DFL, wherein I fulminate against the media, national Olympic committees, the IOC, and the general public for their obsession with medals and their tendency to blame athletes for failing to bring back the shiny knick-knacks and making their whole country look bad.

Each edition of DFL has been different: the 2004 version was the funny DFL, in which I navigated a narrow course between cracking wise and not doing so at the athletes' expense; the 2006 version was the earnest DFL, where I focused on injury, grit and character, and how hard it was to get to the Games. By the end of this run, I'm running out of things to say. Apart from reporting the results, I find myself more or less filling in the corners.

And fewer of you are reading it each time. Only half as many of you have visited this time around as you did during the 2006 Torino Games, and one-tenth as many as during the 2004 Athens Games. I'm not bothered; I ought to have done something to, you know, promote this site if I were. The fact that the media ignored DFL this time around -- which made my life a little less crazy, despite some health problems I've had during this run -- means two things: one, my point has been made -- though if the case of Stany the Stingray is any indication, the media has largely ignored that point. And two, my 15 minutes are up. I'm content.

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'Stany the Stingray'

I was right, and I should have looked into it sooner. There was a media frenzy about Stany Kempompo Ngangola, the 34-year-old swimmer from the Democratic Republic of Congo who had the slowest time in the men's 50-metre freestyle. In fact, they were waiting for him, like vultures, before he had even swam; this Australian columnist proclaimed him a friend of Eric the Eel and drew attention to his extremely slow qualifying time. It turns out that that qualifying time was a typo, that he'd never even met Eric Moussambani, and that his result . I mean, it wasn't good -- 35.19 seconds, 13.89 seconds behind the gold medallist in the final -- but it wasn't Moussambani-class drown-in-the-pool awful. The only ones looking ridiculous here are the media who were fishing for an easy mark -- hoping to find yet another central African to make fun of for a good wacky-Olympics story. I'm delighted that they were disappointed.

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The Final Tally

As Greece did when it hosted the 2004 Olympics, China has won the DFL race. With 14 last-place finishes in the sports I was able to award them in,1 they had six more than the nearest competition, Canada. This is the post in which I explain what this all means.

First, it means nothing. Despite what I predicted, the DFL race has nothing to do with a country's athletic strength. China may have had more last-place finishes than anyone else, but, with 51 gold medals, they also had more first-place finishes than anyone else.

Which brings me to my second point: large delegations lead the last-place standings. With the top 13 countries having at least four last-place finishes, a country with only three athletes will obviously not crack the top 10. The smallest delegation in the top 10 was Egypt's, with 104 athletes; the smallest in the top 20 was Honduras's, with 28. But the top five were either above 300 athletes or within 20 of that number. Small delegations did have some interesting results, though: S?o Tomé and Príncipe had three athletes and two DFLs; the Cook Islands, San Marino, the British Virgin Islands and Somalia had a 50 percent DFL rate with only two or three athletes. But, as I argued four years ago, better that these countries send athletes to come in last than not send any athletes at all.

Then there's the African team disadvantage: in team sports with continental qualifiers, there will usually be a spot reserved for Africa, which for any number of reasons is not as competitive. The end result is that countries like Angola, Egypt or Mali just get killed in competitions like basketball, field hockey, water polo, and the relay events in swimming and track -- and that runs up the numbers at the end.

Finally, the most significant factor: the home team disadvantage. It didn't occur in the 2006 Winter Games, but they're different. But in the Summer Games it's as close to an iron law as you can get. Greece got 13 DFLs in 2004, but only one this time around. Their team was also less than one-third the size. China's team, on the other hand, went from six to 14 DFLs, and its team grew by half. This is because the home team gets a berth in every event, including events for which that country would not normally qualify. Because they wouldn't normally qualify, they get clobbered.

China didn't put away the DFL title until this weekend, when it DFLed in men's handball, baseball, the men's 4×400 relay, and two kayaking events. The following graph shows the progression of last-place finishes over the course of the Olympics for the top five countries:



Now for some more visualizations. Google Spreadsheets does heat maps. Here's a heat map of the last-place finishes by country:



This is an imperfect representation, of course: it doesn't take into account population, GDP or size of athletic delegation, all of which would be useful in evaluating the meaningfulness of a big pile of last-place finishes. Maybe someone can do some math. But the biggest problem is that this map is too darn small. Fortunately, Google Spreadsheets's map widget can zoom in a bit as well.

Africa:


Asia:


Europe:


The Middle East:


South America:


(Something's not right, because Britain should be the same colour as Italy and Japan. Oh well.)

But, as I've said before (2004, 2006), with limited success, none of this actually means anything. Which is precisely my point about the medal race.

1 Sports not covered: badminton, beach volleyball, boxing, fencing, gymnastics (individual events), judo, table tennis, taekwondo, tennis, and wrestling.

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Results for Sunday, August 24

Athletics: No doubt 30-year-old Atsushi Sato of Japan will be the subject of many an attempted human interest story, now that he's finished dead last in the . He finished 76th with a time of 2:41:08, which was 34:36 behind the gold medallist. Hardly A Baser Wasiqi territory, but that won't stop the media. There were 19 DNFs and three DNSes.

Basketball: Angola was 0–5 in the preliminaries of and, with fewer points for and more points against than Iran, finished 12th.

Handball: In
, China was 0–5 and finished 12th.

Rhythmic Gymnastics: In the qualification round for the group all-around event, the team from Brazil finished 12th with a score of 29.125; it would have taken 31.45 or better to qualify.

Volleyball: In , both Egypt and Japan were 0–5, but Egypt won no sets, whereas Japan won four. Therefore, the DFL goes to Egypt.

Water Polo: In , China lost its classification match with Canada on Friday to finish 12th.

Final standings: China finishes with 14 DFLs; Egypt moves into sixth place, Japan moves into ninth, and Angola and Brazil, at the last moment, jump into the top 20. Stand by for an analysis of the final standings.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Late Results for Saturday, August 23

Athletics: Women's high jump: Two competitors had an identical score of 1.8 metres, in the same number of jumps; no DFL will be awarded in this event as a result. Two athletes had no mark; the gold medallist cleared 2.05 metres. Men's javelin: Menik Janoyan of Armenia, 23, with a best throw of 64.47 metres in group B. One athlete had no mark; the gold medallist's best was 90.57 metres. Men's 800 metre: Heat four saw the slowest time in the preliminaries: 1:57.48 by 21-year-old Derek Mandell of Guam. The gold medallist's final time was 1:44.65. There were three DNSes. Women's 1,500 metre: 27-year-old Domingas Togna of Guinea-Bissau was, at 5:05.76 in heat two, substantially slower than the rest of the field: the next-to-slowest time was 45 seconds faster. And the gold medallist's time in the final was faster still: 4:00.23. Men's 5,000 metre: In heat one, Min Thu Soe of Burma (Myanmar), 19 years old, was, at 15:50.56, much slower than the rest of the field -- by more than a minute. There was one DNS in the heats. The gold medallist finished in 12:57.82 in the final. Women's 4×400-metre relay: China had the slowest time in the preliminaries (heat two); compare their time of 3:30.77 to the gold medallists' final time of 3:18.54. Men's 4×400-metre relay: In heat two, the Dominican Republic had the slowest preliminary time: 3:04.31. Compare that to the gold medallists' final time of 2:55.39.

Diving: In the , 20-year-old North Korean diver Kim Chon Man will incur the Dear Leader's wrath with a 30th-place finish; his score of 328.85 was about 90 points lower than he would have needed to qualify for the next round.

Baseball: Two teams finished the competition with 1–6 records; with some reluctance, I'm awarding the DFL to the team with the most runs against: China.

Basketball: Mali finished 12th in with a record of 0–5.

Field Hockey: In the
, the team from South Africa lost its classification match and finished 12th.

Rhythmic Gymnastics: Wania Monteiro of Cape Verde repeats her 2004 DFL in the individual all-around event. Now 22, she finished 24th (again) in the qualifying round with a score of 49.050. The lowest qualifying score was 66.825.

Volleyball: Both Algeria and Venezuela are ranked 11th in , but using the win-loss ratio from the preliminary round to break the tie, I'll award the DFL to Algeria.

Standings to date: As the results for the team sports and events come in, two trends occur. First, the host country, which might not otherwise qualify for events but enters them anyway as the host, racks up a few DFLs, as China has with a total of four today. Its hold on first place is unassailable: Canada simply can't catch up. Second, you also see a few last-place finishes from African countries, who qualify on a continental basis (i.e., they're the best African team) but go on to get slaughtered at the Olympics. (Note that Egypt and South Africa are now both in the top 10.)

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Early Results for Saturday, August 23

Canoe/Kayak (Flatwater Racing): : Koutoua Francis Abia, 43, C?te d'Ivoire, 9th in heat three with a time of 2:00.716. : Fortunato Luis Pacavira, 30, Angola, 8th in heat one with a time of 2:13.265. : Khathia Ba, 17, Senegal, 9th in heat one with a time of 2:17.74. : Shen Je, 21, and Huang Zhipeng, 24, China, eighth in heat one with a time of 1:34.432. : José Everardo Cristobal, 22, and Dimas Camilo, 18, Mexico, 9th in the semifinal with a time of 1:48.853. This is this team's second DFL of these Games. : Xu Linbei, 24, and Wang Feng, 22, China, eighth in heat two with a time of 1:47.645.

Cycling (Mountain Bike): On the , Dellys Starr of Australia, 31, was lapped with two laps remaining; on the , Antipass Kwari of Zimbabwe, 33, was lapped with six laps remaining. Four women and two men did not finish; a total of eight women and 20 men finished their races by being lapped; they were still ranked.

Football (Soccer): With an 0–3 record and five goals against, Honduras finished 16th in .

Handball: With a record of 0–1–4 and one point, Angola finished 12th in
.

Synchronized Swimming: Egypt sweeps this sport with a DFL in the
team event; their nine swimmers finished with 80.833 points, 18.667 behind the gold medallists. And before these Games I bet you didn't even know Egypt had a synchronized swimming team.

Standings to date: African countries are making a strong showing so far today, thanks to canoe/kayak and team sports: four countries make their first appearance, and Egypt moves into the top 10 with its 4th last-place finish. China adds two DFLs to take the lead with 10 -- as the host country, this is very nearly expected. Australia adds a seventh to move into third place. Honduras and Mexico add their third each to move into 12th and 15th place, respectively.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Results for Friday, August 22

Athletics: : 36-year-old Kazimir Verkin of Slovakia finished 47th; his time of 4:21:26 was 44:17 behind the gold medallist. There were seven DNFs, five disqualifications, and two DNSes. Women's long jump: In qualifying Tuesday, Tricia Flores of Belize, 28, had the shortest best jump: 5.25 metres in group A; the gold medallist got 7.04 metres in the final. Three athletes had no mark; one was disqualified for being bad. Women's 5,000 metre: 30-year-old Celma da Graca Soares Bonfim of S?o Tomé and Príncipe finished heat one with a time of 17:25.99 on Tuesday; the gold medallist's time was 15:41.40. One DNF and one DNS apiece in the heats. Women's 4×100-metre relay: Never mind the final, the heats Thursday saw three disqualifications and two DNFs, leaving the team from Thailand with the slowest finishing time of 44.38 seconds. The gold medal time in the final was 42.31 seconds. Men's 4×100-metre relay: The men's side saw two disqualifications and four DNFs; the slowest team left standing was that of France, with 39.53 seconds. The gold medallists in the final did it in 37.1 seconds. Men's pole vault: Three athletes cleared 5.3 metres (the gold medallist did 5.96 metres); I'm unable to break the tie. No DFL will be awarded. Men's decathlon: There were 14 DNFs in this event -- 35 percent of all athletes entered. Of the 26 capable of attempting all 10 events, Mikko Halvari of Finland, 25, was 26th with a score of 6,486 -- 2,305 points behind the gold medallist. Mikko got zero in the pole vault; he and one other athlete continued nonetheless, while two athletes did not start the following event. I don't know the circumstances for all 14 DNFs; I wonder how many were the result of giving up when zeroing out on a specific discipline.

Canoe/Kayak (Flatwater Racing): : Alcino Gomes da Silva, 17, S?o Tomé and Príncipe, 9th in heat two with a time of 4:28.057. : Sean Pangelinan, 21, Guam, 8th in heat two with a time of 4:49.284. : Canada, fourth in the semifinal with a time of 1:38.366. : José Ramos, 25, and Gabriel Rodriguez, 29, Venezuela, seventh in the semifinal with a time of 3:27.423. : José Everardo Cristobal, 22, and Dimas Camilo, 18, Mexico, seventh in the semifinal with a time of 3:49.695. : Australia, fourth in the semifinal with a time of 3:02.743.

Cycling (BMX): In the men's BMX event, Latvian
Ivo Lakucs, 29, had the lowest score of the four heats of the quarterfinal round. On the women's side, Australian Tanya Bailey, 27, had the worst score in the semifinals.

Field Hockey: New Zealand lost its classification match in women's field hockey to finish 12th.

Modern Pentathlon: All the female athletes in the modern pentathlon were able to complete the equestrian portion; insert cliché about women and horses here. Lada Jienbalanova of Kazakhstan, 38, was already 36th after the equestrian portion and did not start the final 3,000-metre cross country run. Her final score was 3,736 points; the gold medallist's score was 5,792.

Standings to date: Canada retakes the lead with its eighth DFL; Australia moves into fifth place with its sixth last-place finish. With their third DFLs each, Venezuela, Kazakhstan, New Zealand and France move into 14th, 15th, 18th and 23rd places, respectively. With two last-place finishes and only three athletes, S?o Tomé and Príncipe jumps into 24th place.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Rogge vs. Bolt

DFL is, at its most basic, a call for people to lay off the athletes. So, even though it has nothing to do with last-place finishes, I thoroughly enjoyed Dan Wetzel's tear into IOC president Jacques Rogge for Rogge's criticism of Usain Bolt's behaviour after winning his medals. He, ah, doesn't pull any punches. "Jacques Rogge is so bought, so compromised, the president of the IOC doesn’t have the courage to criticize China for telling a decade of lies to land itself these Olympic Games," Dan writes. "Instead, he has flexed his muscles by unloading on a powerless sprinter from a small island nation. ... Oh, this is richer than those bribes and kickbacks the IOC got caught taking." In a nutshell: neither Rogge nor the IOC has any business being this patronizing.

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Late Results for Thursday, August 21

Athletics: Women's javelin: Rumyana Karapetrova of Bulgaria, 26, had the shortest best throw in the qualifying round; she finished last in group B with 40.15 metres. Two competitors in the qualifying round had no mark. The gold medallist's final score was 71.42 metres. Women's 200 metre: Samia Yusuf Omar of Somalia, 17, was considerably behind the rest of the field with her time, in heat five, of 32.16 seconds. The gold medallist's time in the final was 21.74 seconds. There were two DNSes in the heats. Men's triple jump: In group B of the qualifying round, Indian Renjith Maheswary, 22, had a best jump of 15.77 metres; the gold medallist's best in the final was 17.67 metres. Two athletes had no mark in the qualifying round. Men's 400 metre: 20-year-old Liu Xiaosheng of China put in the only plus-50-second time in the heats; his time in heat two was 53.11 seconds. The gold medallist's final time was 43.75 seconds. There was one DNS in the heats. Men's 110-metre hurdles: Heat three saw Pakistani hurdler Abdul Rashid, 29, finish with a time of 14.52 seconds; the gold medallist's final time was 12.93 seconds. There were two DNFs and one DNS in the heats.

Diving: In the event, Annette Gamm of Germany, 31, finished 29th in the preliminary round with a score of 234.3; the lowest score to advance was 291.9.

Equestrian: In individual jumping, John Whitaker, 58, riding Peppersteak Peppermill for Great Britain, was 77th in the qualifying round and did not advance.

Upper-Class Twit of the Year Modern Pentathlon: Most competitors at the back of the field in this event can blame a DNF in the equestrian leg, giving them zero points. Horses is difficult. Such was the case in the run today, in which Jaime Lopez of Spain, 22, was 36th with 4,196 points and 5:59 behind the gold medallist, who had 5,632 points.

Standings to date: China adds its eighth last-place finish and its third today, taking first place from Canada, which falls to second. Germany adds a seventh to move into third, and Britain adds a fifth to move into fifth position, oddly enough. Spain's third DFL is good for 19th place, Pakistan's second for 29th.

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Early Results for Thursday, August 21

Athletics: 37-year-old Evelyn Nunez of Guatemala finished 43rd in the . Her time of 1:44:13 was 17:42 behind the gold medallist, a bit more than three minutes behind the next-to-last-place finisher, and about six hours faster than I hike a 20-km mountain trail. There were three disqualifications and two DNFs.

Football (Soccer): An unresolvable two-way tie for 11th place in
; accordingly, no DFL will be awarded in this event. You can't come dead last if you're tied with somebody else.

Sailing:
Star: Chinese sailors Li Hongquan and Wang He finished 16th. Tornado: American sailors Johnny Lovell and Charlie Ogletree were 15th.

Softball: The Netherlands finished the tournament in eighth place, with a record of 1–6.

Swimming: In the
, which was limited to 25 competitors, 21-year-old Chinese swimmer Xin Tong was 23rd; there was one disqualification and one DNF (did not float). His time of 2:09:13.4 was 17:21.8 behind the gold medallist.

Water Polo: In , Greece lost its classification match 12–6 and finished eighth; they had been 0–3 in the preliminary round.

Standings to date: China moves into second place with its sixth and seventh DFL, behind Canada, which has seven but a smaller delegation. The U.S. moves into the top 10. Greece, which won the DFL race in 2004 with 13 last-place finishes, gets only its first DFL of these Games. Note, however, that Greece's delegation is only 30 percent of what it was in Athens, when it was the host country. Your delegation's a lot smaller when your athletes actually have to qualify, but you have fewer last places.

Later today: More athletics, diving, equestrian, and modern pentathlon.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Results for Wednesday, August 20

A comparatively quiet day, medals-wise.

Athletics: In the women's hammer throw qualifying round on Monday, 17-year-old Galina Mityaeva of Tajikistan met her Dr. Horrible in group A, with a best throw of 51.38 metres. Only one other competitor was under 60 metres; the gold medallist's best result in the final was 76.34. Three athletes had no mark. In round one of the men's 200 metre, the slowest time came in heat five: Juan Zeledon of Nicaragua, 22, had a time of 23.39 seconds; the gold medallist's freaky-fast record time in the final was 19.3 seconds. There were three DNSes and one DNF in the heats. The first round of the women's 400-metre hurdles was held on Sunday. Galina Pedan had the only time in excess of a minute; the 25-year-old Krygyz athlete's time was 1:00.31, compared to the 52.64 second-time put in by the gold medallist in the final.

Sailing: In the , Colombian sailor Santiago Grillo, 21, was 35th. In the , 34-year-old Sedef Koktenturk of Turkey was 27th.

Swimming: In the , 16-year-old Antonella Bogarin of Argentina finished 24th. Her time of 2:11:35.9 was 12:08.2 behind the gold medallist; she and one other swimmer were considerably behind the main pack. There was also one DNF, who I really hope was fished out.

Synchronized swimming: In the duet event, the Egyptian team of Dalia El Gebaly, 26, and Reem Abdalazem, 25, was 24th in both the preliminary and technical rounds, and did not advance to the final.

Standings to date: Colombia, Turkey, Egypt and Argentina add their third DFLs, Nicaragua and Tajikistan their second.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Late Results for Tuesday, August 19

Athletics: In the men's high jump, three athletes jumped the minimum 2.1 metres in the preliminary round on Sunday, but, as I did with the women's high jump, I'll award the DFL to the one athlete who needed three attempts rather than two: Oleksandr Nartov, 20, representing Ukraine, who did so in group A. The gold medallist cleared 2.36 metres. One jumper had no mark. In the men's discus, British Virgin Islander Eric Matthias, 24, had a best throw -- is that what you call it? -- of 53.11 metres in group B of the qualifying round on Saturday. The gold medallist's best in the final was 68.82 metres. In the women's 400 metre, 19-year-old Ghada Ali of Libya finished heat four on Saturday with a time of 1:06.19; the gold medallist's time in the final was 49.62 seconds. In heat four of the women's 100-metre hurdles, held Sunday, Honduran Jeimmy Julissa Bernardez, 21, finished in 14.29 seconds; the gold medallist's time was 12.54 seconds. There was one DNF in the heats. Heats for the men's 1,500 metre were held last Friday, which seems like forever now. The slowest time came in heat four: 21-year-old Jeffrey Riseley of Australia finished in 3:53.95. The gold medallist's time was 3:32.94; there were two DNSes in the heats.

Diving: In the preliminary round of the men's three-metre springboard, South Korean diver Son Seongchel, 21, finished 29th with a score of 353.35, 70.55 points behind the lowest qualifying score.

Equestrian: Choi Junsang, 20, also representing South Korea and riding Cinque Cento (which is Korean for "delicious with kimchi") finished 46th in the first round of the individual dressage event, with a score of 57.333 percent. There was one withdrawal and one retirement in this event.

Gymnastics: 27-year-old Henrik Stehlik of Germany finished 16th in the qualification round of the men's trampoline event. His score of 67.6 was 5.1 points behind the lowest qualifying score.

Weightlifting: The final event in this sport was the , where Tongan weightlifter Maama Lolohea, 40, finished 13th with a combined total of 313 kg. The weakling. The gold medallist's score was 461, and there was one DNF.

Standings to date: South Korea and Germany move into second and third place with six last-place finishes each; Australia's fourth DFL moves it into 9th; with three, Ukraine moves into 11th. Honduras and Libya add their second last-place finishes and now sit 22nd and 17th, respectively.

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Early Results for Tuesday, August 19

Cycling: In the , the U.S. team of Michael Friedman, 25, and Bobby Lea, 24, finished 16th with four laps down and three points. In the , Sakie Tsukuda of Japan, 22, was last in the final for 9th–12th places. In the , Estonian Daniel Novikov, 19, was 21st in the qualifying round and did not advance.

Sailing: In the laser radial, 20-year-old Cathrine Margrethe Gjerpen of Norway was 28th. In the laser, Gregory Douglas, 18, sailing for Barbados, was 43rd.

Triathlon: In the , Canadian Colin Jenkins, 25, finished 50th with a time of 1:56:50.85 -- nearly eight minutes behind the winner. Don't feel too bad for my country; a Canadian made it to the podium, too. There were three lapped competitors and two DNFs.

Standings to date: Canada adds its seventh DFL to solidify its lead. Japan adds its fourth to move into eighth place; the U.S. adds its third to move into 12th; Estonia adds its second to move into 20th.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Late Results for Monday, August 18

Athletics: The qualifying rounds for the women's discus were held Friday evening; in group A, 24-year-old Tereapii Tapoki of the Cook Islands had a best distance of 48.35 metres. She was the only competitor under 50 metres. The gold medallist's final result tonight was 64.74 metres. One competitor had no mark in the heats. Next, women's pole vault, where the Friday qualifying rounds saw three women clear only four metres; two others weren't able to do even that, and had no mark. (The gold medallist cleared 5.05 metres.) To break the tie, I'm going to assign the DFL to the woman who took the most attempts to clear four metres: Cypriot Anna Foitidou, 31, who did so in group B. Qualifying for the men's long jump was held Saturday evening: 29-year-old American Miguel Pate's best jump was 7.34 metres, exactly a metre behind the gold medallist's best in the final. There were two DNSes in the qualifying round, and one athlete had no mark. Also on Saturday, heats for the men's 3,000-metre steeplechase; 23-year-old Ali Ahmad Al-Amri of Saudi Arabia finished in 9:09.73 in heat two. The gold medallist's time in the final was 8:10.34. There was one DNF and one DNS in the heats. In heat five of round one of the women's 800 metre, which was held on Friday, Aishath Reesha, 19, running for the Maldives, had a time of 2:30.14. There was one DNF and one disqualification in the heats; the gold medallist's time in the final was 1:54.87. And finally, the men's 400-metre hurdles. 22-year-old Harouna Garba of Niger ran a time of 55.14 seconds in heat one on Friday. The Monday night time put in by the gold medallist was 47.25 seconds. There was one DNF in the heats.

Equestrian: With a total of 65 penalties, New Zealand's equestrian team was 16th in the first round of team show jumping, and did not advance to the second round.

Gymnastics: Ana Rente of Portugal, 20, finished 16th in the women's trampoline qualification round; only the top eight advanced to the final. Very low marks on her second routine led to a final score of 31.60 -- something must have happened. The next-to-last competitor's score was 57.60, and the lowest score to qualify for the final was 63.90.

Weightlifting: In the men's 105 kg, 31-year-old Moreno Boer of Italy finished 18th, with a combined weight of 330 kg; the gold medallist's score was 436. There was one DNS and one DNF.

Standings to date: Italy adds its fifth last-place finish to move into second; the Cook Islands (!), Niger, New Zealand and the U.S. add their second DFLs.

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Early Results for Monday, August 18

Cycling: Lee Minhye of South Korea, 23, finished 19th in the with a score of –40; there were three DNFs. In the men's team pursuit, the Colombian team of Juan Esteban Arango, 21, Arles Castro, 29, Juan Pablo Forero, 25, and Jairo Perez, 35, was 10th in the qualifying round and did not advance.

Sailing: 470 women: Toh Liying, 23, and Deborah Huimin Ong, 18, representing Singapore, finished 19th. 470 men: Canadians Stéphane Locas and Oliver Bone, both 27, finished 29th.

Triathlon: In the , Lisa Mensink of the Netherlands, 31, was 29th after the 1.5-km swim, but fell to 45th place during the 40-km race. She ended up finishing 45th with a total time of 2:10:18.98 -- 11:51.32 behind the gold medallist. Five triathletes were lapped, and there were five DNFs, all during the bike portion of the race.

Standings to date: Colombia and the Netherlands add their second DFLs; South Korea's fourth moves it into fifth place; Canada's sixth solidifies its hold on first place in a non-tie-breaking manner.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Late Results for Sunday, August 17

Athletics: In Friday's qualifying round for the men's hammer throw, Juan Ignacio Cerra of Argentina, 31, had the shortest final distance in group B: 70.16 metres. Compare with the gold medallist's best in the final Sunday night: 82.02 metres. Three athletes had no mark. In heat two of the women's 3,000-metre steeplechase on Friday, China's Zhao Yanni, 21, put in a time of 10:18.60. The gold medallist's time in the final Sunday night was a world-record 8:58.81. There were four DNFs in the heats and one in the final. The lowest score in the women's triple jump came in group B of the qualifying round Friday: Irina Litvinenko of Kazakhstan, 21, had a best jump of 12.92 metres -- nearly 2½ metres shorter than the gold medallist's best jump Sunday night. Four athletes had no mark in the qualifying round. The slowest heat time in the women's 100 metre was less than a second behind the gold medallist's time of 10.78 Sunday night; that time, 11.71 seconds, was put in by 30-year-old Sasha Springer-Jones of Trinidad and Tobago in heat five. It was a competitive field: several other sprinters were within a few hundredths of a second of this last-place time. And finally, the , where 27-year-old Alejandro Suarez of Mexico finished 35th with a time of 29:24.78 -- 2:23.61 behind the gold medallist. There were three DNFs and one DNS.

Cycling: With an average speed of 45.598 km/h, El Salvadoran cyclist Evelyn Garcia, 25, was 13th in the qualifying round of the women's individual pursuit and did not advance.

Diving: Spanish diver Jenifer Benitez, 19, finished 30th in the preliminary round of the women's three-metre springboard; her score of 194.05 was 179.85 points behind the leader.

Rowing: : Ko Youngeun, 21, and Ji Yoojin, 20, South Korea, fifth in the C final. Lightweight men's double sculls: Mohamed Ryad Garidi, 30, and Kamel Ait Daoud, 23, Algeria, second in the D final. Lightweight men's four: Mike Altman, 33, Patrick Todd, 28, Will Daly, 25, and Tom Paradiso, 28, USA, fifth in the B final. : Rachelle de Jong, 29, Anna-Marie de Zwager, 31, Janine Hanson, 25, and Krista Guloien, 28, Canada, second in the B final. : the young Slovenian team of Janez Zupanc, 21, Jurnej Jurse, 20, Janez Jurse, 19, and Gaspar Fistravec, 21, did not make it out of the repechage. : the German team did not make it out of the repechage. : Germany was second in the B final.

Sailing:
Yngling: the Italian team of Chiara Calligaris, 36, Francesca Scognamillo, 26, and Giulia Pignolo, 28, finished 15th. Finn: Venezuelan Jhonny Senen Bilbao Bande, 33, finished 26th. 49er: Li Fei, 25, and Hu Xianqiang, 26, finished 19th.

Weightlifting: 26-year-old Ravi Bhollah of Mauritius lifted a total of 275 kg in the and finished 16th; the gold medallist's score was 406. There were two DNFs.

Standings to date: Canada, Germany and China move into first, second and third with five last-place finishes each. Italy adds its fourth to stand in sixth place, and South Korea its third to stand eighth. Argentina, Kazakhstan, Mauritius, Spain and Venezuela each add their second DFLs; the U.S. finally has its first.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Evening Results for Saturday, August 16

Athletics: In the women's shot put, the lowest result was put in by Lee Miyoung in group A of the qualifying round. The 29-year-old South Korean's best put was 15.1 metres; the gold medallist's best was 20.56 metres. Two athletes had no mark. In the staggering , 19-year-old Yana Maksimava of Belarus finished 35th with 4,806 points -- 1,927 points behind the gold medallist. There were eight DNFs. The slowest time in the men's 100-metre heats came in heat five, where Shanahan Sanitoa of American Samoa, 19, ran a time of 12.6 seconds -- which I think is the only 12-second-plus time in the heats. Still, not bad for a non-Jamaican.

Cycling: In the , 34-year-old Roberto Chiappa of Italy was relegated in his heat and finished 25th. In the qualifying round of the men's individual pursuit, Jenning Huizinga, 24, of the Netherlands had the slowest speed: 51.967 km/h. The gold medallist's average speed exceeded 56 km/h.

Weightlifting: 23-year-old Cristina Cornejo of Peru finished 10th with a total combined lift of 225 kg in the ; the gold medallist's total was 326 kg. There was one DNF.

Standings to date: Italy moves into 6th place, South Korea into 16th.

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Afternoon Results for Saturday, August 16

Cycling: In the , French cyclist Christophe Riblon, 27, lost 20 lap points and finished 21st with a score of –17, compared with the gold medallist's score of 60. There were two DNFs.

Rowing: : Homa Hosseini, 19, Iran, fourth in the E final. : Norberto Bernardez Avila, 21, Honduras, second in the F final; one DNS. : Kim Crow, 23, and Sarah Cook, 23, Australia, fourth in the B final. : Piotr Hojka, 24, and Jaros?aw Godek, 27, Poland, second in the C final. : Laura Schiavone, 21, and Elisabetta Sancassani, 25, Italy, fourth in the B final. : Haidar Nozad, 25, and Hussein Jebur, 32, Iraq, second in the C final; one exclusion. : the Chinese team of Zhang Xingbo, 27, Zhao Linquan, 21, Guo Kang, 20, and Song Kai, 24, did not make it out of the repechage.

Shooting: In the , Hong Kong's Wong Fai, 38, finished 18th with a score of 558; he would have needed at least 579 to advance to the final. There was one disqualification. In the , Roger Dahi, 46, representing Syria, finished 41st with a score of 91; he would have needed 118 to have a shot (sorry) at advancing.

Standings to date: Poland takes the lead! Australia moves into seventh place, China into ninth.

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China Embraces John Stephen Akhwari



John Stephen Akhwari's last-place finish in the marathon in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics is almost certainly considered the greatest last-place finish of all time, and Akhwari's response as to why he forced his injured body across the finish line, long after the rest of the field had finished, is almost certainly the epitome of the DFL spirit: "My country did not send me to Mexico City to start the race. They sent me to finish the race." (That quote has been presented in several versions, paraphrased and retranslated, but you get the gist.)

Forty years later, the organizers of the Beijing Games have brought Akhwari, now in his seventies, back into the spotlight. (Let's take it as given that he has not been replaced with a more photogenic, computer-generated nine-year-old Han Chinese girl.) Akhwari visited China over the New Year: he toured the Bird's Nest construction site, visited an elementary school and was even the subject of a music video:



And in April he ran in the torch relay when it passed through his home country of Tanzania. China's certainly earned its share of criticism for these Games, but embracing Akhwari -- even insofar as it means using him and what he represents propagandistically -- is a class act.

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Morning Results for Saturday, August 16

Athletics: The just wrapped up; Turkey's Recep ?elik, 25, finished 49th with a time of 1:32:54, which was 13:53 behind the gold medallist. There were two disqualifications.

Swimming: Heats for this morning events were run on Thursday. 17-year-old Christin Zenner of Germany finished last in the second heat of the women's 200-metre backstroke; her time was 2:20.28, just over 15 seconds slower that the gold medallist's final time. There was one DNS. In the men's 100-metre butterfly, Marco Camargo of Ecuador, 19, had the slowest heat time in heat one: his time of 57.48 was just over seven seconds slower than some freak's gold medal time. There was one DNS in the heats here, too. Next, the women's 800-metre freestyle: in heat one, 16-year-old Polish swimmer Karolina Paulina Szczepaniak -- this is why I don't do a podcast -- put in what appears to be a rather slow time of 9:08.87; the gold medal time in the final was 8:14.10. Another DNS in the heats here, too. And finally, the men's 50-metre freestyle, which was an event designated for wild card entries, only one of whom could finish last. The slowest time came in heat two from Stany Kempompo Ngangola, 34, representing the Democratic Republic of Congo (the one that used to be Zaire). His time of 35.19 seconds was 13.89 seconds behind the gold medallist's time of 21.3 seconds in the final.

Mr. Kempompo Ngangola runs a real risk of being anointed the next Eric the Eel by the media. A slow swim from a competitor representing a country in equatorial Africa -- the ostensible parallels are all too obvious. I'll hazard a guess and say that his story will be nothing like Moussambani's, but that won't stop anyone from trying. I only have the numbers at the moment, but let me use what little information I have to place his result in some kind of context. The 50-metre event, as I said, had a number of participants there because of a wild card draw; any one of them could have finished last. Mr. Kempompo Ngangola's heat was particularly slow: all but one had a time of more than 30 seconds. His performance, in other words, was not singularly awful.

What I'm trying to say is this: the first patronizing story I see about this event, watch out.

Standings to date: Poland and Germany each add their third DFLs, moving them into fourth and seventh place, respectively.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Medal Nervousness

Colby Cosh in the National Post:
The medal-count panic now spreading within Canada after a week of Games has also served to teach us something about ourselves, if we should bother to introspect. We tend to think of ourselves as very soft patriots by international standards -- relaxed and rational about our reputation, convinced that other nations are very impressed with us indeed. Every single foreigner who has ever met a Canadian knows what balderdash this is: We are among the world's most hysterical nationalists. And our medal nervousness proves it. Before the Games, this newspaper printed a list of 15 projected Canadian medal winners: The number of these who have so far had a chance to win a medal and blown it is precisely zero. Yet to read the press or the Internet, or even to hang around the water cooler, one would think the sky were falling.
I shouldn't pick on my own country so much; it's just that there's so much low-hanging fruit. Are there similar examples out there from other countries? (India is usually a good candidate.)

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

In Defence of Shitty Little Countries

I've done some thinking -- that was unwise, I know -- and I think I finally figured out what the problem is when Canadians, for example, complain that Togo won a bronze medal and Canada hasn't (yet).

They think that their country is entitled to a medal. And that Togo -- and countries like it -- aren't.

Shitty little countries aren't supposed to win medals. They aren't supposed to upstage big countries. They're supposed to know their place. And their place is not the podium. They're supposed to provide comic relief, or colourful costumes during the Opening Ceremonies, not real competition. After all, they don't really deserve to be here, because they only qualified through a wild card draw. They're not real athletes.

Athletes from shitty little countries are supposed to look like Eric the Eel, not Benjamin Boukpeti. The nerve of one of them, winning a medal like that.

I can't figure out this attitude at all. We live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with one of the highest standards of living. And when a small west African country, a country with a per capita gross national income of less than $400 per year, wins its first medal ever, we're jealous?

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The Great Canadian Choke Story

The Globe and Mail's Christie Blatchford on the Canadian press corps's predictable return to Canada-chokes-at-the-Olympics-because-it's-day-five-and-we-don't-have-a-medal-yet stories, such as this one (as predicted):
When [Benjamin] Boukpeti [of Togo] won the little West African country's first ever Olympic medal [in kayaking], the gleeful cry went up in the Canadian press corps: "Hey, we lost to Togo! Who we going to lose to next?"
Ah! Losing to a shitty little country like Togo means that the size of our national dicks is in peril. George Carlin, looking down from the big electron, is smiling. Blatchford continues:
Then came that low, familiar rumbling, plain in questions to Alexandre Despatie and Arturo Miranda, who missed out on an expected podium appearance in the synchronized three-metre springboard: Boys, what would you say to all those Canadians back home who really want a medal?
Oh, I don't know; how about this: "Hit the gym and win your own goddamn medal, fatass."

But Blatchford's point, and it's a good one, is that the Canadian media tends to jump the gun about the country's lack of medals. Every single Olympics, the medals come -- they just come later in the Games. Hardly any medals have been awarded yet. And the media ends up looking stupid, as Rosie DiManno surely did when she demanded an apology from Cindy Klassen for winning a bronze, shortly before Klassen went and won more medals than any Canadian athlete in history.

The Olympics are a crucible that reveals a nation's insecurities, and Canada -- though it's by no means alone in this regard -- has them in spades.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

My Predictions!

If the media had been paying attention to this blog at the start of the Games, they would have asked me for my predictions. They weren't, but in case they rediscover this blog again, here are my predictions, all ready to go for them. Now I won't have to talk to them.

You may absolutely rely on these. There is no chance that they won't come true.

The weakest comprehensive team will have the most DFLs, rather than a small country with only a few athletes. By which I mean a country with a large delegation entered in many events. The most likely candidate is the host country, which gets to enter events they might not otherwise qualify for, but this isn't always the case: Greece -- the host country -- had the most in 2004; Romania -- not the host country -- "won" in 2006.

Blogger will have at least one major outage, causing me to pull out one-third of my hair.

The media will make a story out of the last-place finisher in the marathon, in an attempt to find the next John Stephen Akhwari or Pyambu Tuul, even if the athlete himself is completely ordinary and has no compelling story.

The Canadian media will bemoan their team's lack of medals, and will blame the lack of government funding.

My hosting provider will have at least one major outage, causing me to pull out one-third of my hair.

At least one major American athlete will fail to live up to the hype. The rest of the world will generate enough Schadenfreude to power a small city for a year.

The Indian media will bemoan their team's lack of medals, and feel sorry about themselves.

My ISP will have at least one major outage, causing me to pull out one-third of my hair.

Someone will finish last in a way we've never seen before -- a way that will amaze and impress the hell out of us.

I'll save $12 on a haircut.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Results for Tuesday, August 12

Canoe/Kayak (Slalom): In yesterday's , 23-year-old Siboniso Cele of South Africa finished 16th; only the top 12 advanced to the semifinal; only the top eight advanced to the final. Cele accumulated 50 penalty seconds in his first run, which put him well out of contention. Something similar happened to two kayakers in the , but while Ding Fuxue of China, 28, had a couple of seconds' fewer penalties, he put in a slower time; he finished 21st.

Diving: Great Britain is not having a good time at the pool: the team of Tonia Couch, 19, and Stacie Powell, 22, finished eighth with a score of 303.48 in . Their score was 60.06 points behind the gold medallists.

Equestrian: Eventing has finally wrapped up. France finished 11th in the
team event, due to the fact that they had to include the score of an eliminated horse and rider (teams are scored using the top three results, though most countries arrive with four or five riders). Individual scoring ran concurrently, and the individual jumping final is imminent. But, since the final only includes the top 25 (limited to three per country), we can safely assign a last-place result here as well, based on the results so far. Canada's Samantha Taylor, 25, riding Livewire, 10, finished 56th with 188.3 penalty points -- 134.1 points behind the leader. A total of 14 horse-and-rider pairs were either eliminated or withdrew.

Gymnastics is extremely difficult to report on, because a number of medal events are derived from the same qualifying round, as far as I can tell. In 2004 I gave up on trying to report on the individual events and limited myself to the team scores. Unless someone can hold my hand and show me how this time, I'll do the same again for 2008. So. In the , the Italian team was 12th with a total score of 355.5; the top team score in the qualification round was 374.675. Note that there were a number of individual gymnasts competing without a team in this round.

Shooting:
Nikola Saranovi?, 39, of Montenegro finished 45th in the . His score in the qualifying round was 535; 559 was needed to advance to the final. In the , Canadian Giuseppe Di Salvatore, 18, finished 19th with a qualifying score of 109; he would have needed at least 136 to have a shot a the final.

Swimming: The heats for today's finals took place on Sunday. First, the men's 200-metre freestyle, where, in heat one (of course), Emanuele Nicolini of San Marino, 24, put in a time of 1:59.47. For comparison, the gold medallist's time in the final was 1:42.96. There was one DNS in the heats. Next, the women's 100-metre backstroke, where, again in heat one, 18-year-old Panamanian swimmer Christie Marie Bodden Baca's time was 1:07.18 -- compare that to the gold medallist's time of 58.96 seconds in the final. There was one disqualification and one DNS in the heats. Now for the men's 100-metre backstroke: Mohammad Rubel Rana of Bangladesh, 25, put in a time of 1:04.82 in heat one. That's more than 12 seconds behind the gold medallist's final time. And finally, the women's 100-metre breaststroke (stop sniggering). In heat one, 24-year-old Mariam Pauline Keita of Mali had a time of 1:24.26; the gold medallist's time in the final was 1:05.17.

Weightlifting: Bolivia's Maria Teresa Monasterio, 38, finished 17th in the . Her score was 141, 100 points behind the gold medallist; there were two DNFs and one DNS. Meanwhile, in the , Nizom Sangov of Tajikistan, 25, finished 24th with a score of 250 -- 98 points behind the gold medallist; there were six DNFs.

Standings to date: Now things are starting to get interesting. Britain, home of Eddie the Eagle, maintains its hold atop the DFL standings with four, but Canada adds two to move into second place. San Marino and South Africa add their second DFLs.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Results for Monday, August 11

Archery: I've been able to figure out last-place results for the team archery events. The scores in the ranking round won't work because, in the men's team event, the team with the lowest score in the ranking round went on to win a medal. So it's the lowest score in the 1/8 round that is meaningful for our purposes. In the , which ran yesterday, that meant the Colombian team of Ana Maria Rendon, 22, Sigrid Romero, 19, and Natalia Sanchez, 25. They had a score of 199; the highest score in the event was 231, a world record, which came in the semi-finals. In today's , the lowest score -- 210 -- was put in by the British team of Laurence Godfrey, 32, Simon Terry, 34, and Alan Wills, 27. The gold medallists' score in the final was 227, an Olympic record.

Diving: The results from the event are in; British divers Blake Aldridge, 26, and Thomas Daley, 14 -- that's right, this kid -- finished eighth with a score of 408.48 -- 59.7 points behind. I have to see some footage of this: how a 14-year-old and a 26-year-old can stay in sync is something I want to see.

Shooting: In the , 21-year-old Saso Nestorov of Macedonia finished 51st with a qualifying-round score of 558; it took at least 595 to make it to the final. In the , Namibian Gaby Diana Ahrens, 27, was 20th. Her qualifying-round score was 52; the lowest score to qualify for the final was 67.

Swimming: Four more swimming medals today, but we go back to Saturday and Sunday for the lowest heat times in these events. In heat one (naturally) of the women's 100-metre butterfly, the slowest time was that of 24-year-old Simona Muccioli of San Marino. Her heat time of 1:04.91 was eight seconds behind the gold medallist's final time. In heat one of the men's 100-metre breaststroke, a rather slow performance of 1:20.20 -- more than 21 seconds behind the gold medallist's final time -- was put in by Petero Okatai, 27, of the Cook Islands. The heats had one DNS and one disqualification. In the women's 400-metre freestyle, it's heat one again: 19-year-old Shrone Austin, swimming for the Seychelles, with a time of 4:35.86 -- more than 32 seconds behind the gold medallist's final time, but keep in mind that this event is four times as long as the previous two. Think of it as eight seconds per hundred metres. And finally, the men's 4×100-metre freestyle relay. Relays are by nature more competitive, since the basic requirement is at least four good athletes per country -- Bhutan won't have a relay team, for example. There were two heats in this relay; the slowest time came in heat one from the German quad of Steffen Deibler, 21, Jens Schreiber, 25 , Benjamin Starke, 22, and Paul Biedermann, 22. Their time of 3:17.99 was 9.75 seconds behind the gold medallists' final, but that was a world record -- and in their own heat, they were only 5.76 seconds behind that same gold medal team. There was one disqualification.

Weightlifting: In the , 20-year-old Wendy Hale of the Solomon Islands came 12th with a score of 173; the gold medallist's score was 244. My own country, Canada, gets its first DFL in the : Jasvir Singh, 31, finished 12th with a score of 266; the gold medallist's score was 319, and there were five DNFs.

Standings to date: Great Britain, with three last-place finishes to date, moves into an undisputed lead. No one else has more than a single last-place finish.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Money for Medals

Free meat for life. A free car. And, of course, a metric arseload of money -- in the neighbourhood of tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. Olympic athletes who win medals can reap bountiful rewards from their grateful nations; Tracy McCoy has a roundup. Other examples can be found if you poke around a little online, but you get the idea. This is as clear a message as can be sent to athletes: it's all about the medals. We don't care about how hard you've worked all these years, just bring us home a shiny.

What's perverse is the other message being sent: that athletes are somehow insufficiently motivated to win unless you dangle lots of money in front of them. As though that was the only thing holding them back.

The economics are those of trial lawyers who work on contingency (you know, the personal injury lawyers on TV): A big payoff if you win, lots of ramen if you don't.

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Results for Sunday, August 10

Cycling: The had a lot fewer DNFs than the men's race did yesterday: 4 vs. 53. I wonder if that means conditions were better today. But then there were also fewer competitors over a shorter distance (126 km). In any event, 21-year-old Aurelie Halbwachs of Mauritius came 62nd with a time of 3:52:11 -- nearly 20 minutes behind the winner, and 20 seconds behind the penultimate cyclist.

Diving: We start with synchronized diving, where, in the , the British team of Tandi Gerrard, 30, and Hayley Sage, 22, finished eighth. The fact that there are only eight teams should give you an idea of what it's like even to qualify for this event. Their score of 278.25 was 65.25 points behind the gold medallists.

Shooting: Carolina Lozado, 37, of Uruguay finished 43rd in the qualifying round of the event, with a score of 367. It took a score of 384 or better to make it to the final. There was one DNF. In , Filipino Eric Ang, also 37, finished 35th with a score of 106; those who advanced to the finals has scores between 119 and 121.

Swimming: Four swimming events had their finals today, but for my purposes I have to go back to yesterday's heats to find my last-place finishers, who I will somewhat arbitrarily define as the person putting in the slowest time in the heats. (This is a little problematic if the slowest time in the event is in a semifinal or final, but I have to pick something, if I can.) In the men's 400-metre individual medley, the slowest time was produced in heat one by 22-year-old Hocine Haciane Constatin of Andorra: 4:32.00. (The gold medallist, you may have heard, put a time in of 4:03.84 in the final.) Heat one is also where the slowest time came in the men's 400-metre freestyle (this does not appear to be an accident); Kazakh Oleg Rabota, 18, put in a time of 4:02.16. (For comparison, the gold medallist's final time was 3:41.86.) There was one DNS in another heat. In the women's 400-metre individual medley, it was heat one again, where 18-year-old Thai swimmer Nimitta Thaveesupsoonthorn's time was 5:02.18. (The gold medallist's time was 4:29.45 in the final.) There was one DNS in Nimitta's heat. And finally, the women's 4×100 freestyle relay, which had only two heats: in the second heat, the South African team of Melissa Corfe, Wendy Trott, Mandy Loots and Katheryn Meaklim finished seventh (there was a DNS) with a time of 3:51.14; the gold medal team's time in the final was 3:33.76.

Weightlifting: 22-year-old Venezuelan Judith Andrea Chacon finished ninth in a field of nine in the ; she had a score of 181, compared to the gold medallist's 221. In the , Moldovan Igor Grabucea, 32, finished 15th with a score of 239; the gold medallist's score was 292, and there were four DNFs.

A medal was awarded in archery, but it does not appear that I'll be able to award a last place in that sport -- at least not in the team events.

Standings to date: No country has more than one last-place finish at this point, but since Andorra has fewer athletes at the Games than the others, it displaces Nicaragua for the nominal lead.

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Results for Saturday, August 9

Fewer medals are awarded today than on any other day of these Games, which means not very many last-place finishes to report on yet.

Cycling: In the , 30-year-old Luciano Pagliarini Mendon?a of Brazil came 90th with a time of 7 hours, 8 minutes and 27 seconds. That's 44 minutes, 38 seconds behind the first group across the finish line (and two and a half minutes behind the 89th-place finisher), and if that seems like a lot, consider that the race is 245 kilometres (152 miles) long, and that Pagliarini's average speed was around 34 km/h (21 mph) over that distance and time, versus 38 km/h (23 mph) for the winner. There were also 53 DNFs, seven of whom were lapped. Pagliarini is a cyclist of some note: he has a Web site and a Wikipedia entry, which calls him "one of the best of his country."

Shooting: In the , Turkmenistan's Yekaterina Arabova, who turns 25 tomorrow, received a score of 376 in the qualification round and finished 47th. Competition was tough: the eventual gold medallist shot a perfect 400 in the qualification round, and the lowest advancing score was a mere 396. In the , 38-year-old Sri Lankan Edirisinghe Senanayake came 48th in the preliminary round with a score of 561; a score of 581 was needed to advance, and the eventual gold medallist got 586.

Weightlifting: In the , Karla Moreno, 20, of Nicaragua came 11th in a field of 14; there were three DNFs (who couldn't perform a successful lift). Her score of 150 was well behind the gold medallist's score of 212.

Medals were also awarded in judo and fencing, but from what I can tell it's not possible to determine a last-place finisher in these sports.

Standings: I still have some work to do before I start recording the standings, but it's still too early for anything interesting. Nicaragua is nominally ahead in the last-place race because it has the smallest delegation.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Wild Cards?

This article on the official Beijing Olympics site announces the wild card lottery winners for the one swimming event -- the 50-metre freestyle -- designated for the wildcard draw. I haven't had much luck in my attempts to find out more about this wild card lottery. The article says that it exists to help developing countries send athletes to the Games. There is apparently a Tripartite Commission that handles invitations under the wild card system, but I have yet to find a single Web page that explains what the Commission does. All I've found is references to the Commission in pages about various sports or national Olympic committees. The wild card system also seems to be limited to countries with very small delegations; several countries have discovered this when they tried to send their athletes to the Games under a wild card.

As I said, I'd like to know more about how this system works -- from what I can gather, it's about the only avenue left for, shall we say, noncompetitive competitors.

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Cashing in on the Games

My impression is that most of the people who like this site are those who are fed up by the insipid media coverage, crass commercialism, and focus on winning a gold medal to the exclusion of all else. If that sounds like you, and I suspect it does, you will almost certainly hate this very good article from last Sunday's New York Times, which looks at agents and endorsement deals in that cesspool of commercialism, U.S. women's gymnastics. The focus is on Nastasia Liukin's agent, Evan Morgenstein, as he tries to come up with sponsorship deals during a very short athletic career.
Liukin, who before this year was virtually unknown to all but devout gymnastics fans, can be seen performing aerial magic on a Visa commercial narrated solemnly by Morgan Freeman; appearing online in the AT&T blue room; touting CoverGirl makeup and Secret deodorant; and soon smiling from billboards in ensembles from Vanilla Star jeans. Morgenstein called these endorsements his effort to "help a kid achieve a dream."

The rewards of this dream can vary, from $50,000 to $100,000 per deal before the Games to possibly millions if an athlete wins gold. Gymnastics in particular is a sponsorship bonanza. Since 1984, when the gold medalist Mary Lou Retton became the first female to land on the front of a Wheaties box, women’s gymnastics has become a national obsession, inordinately popular during the Summer Games. The opportunities to make money have therefore become both vaster and far more complicated. Technology and globalization have the capacity to turn an Olympic champion into not just a Wheaties star but also a worldwide role model. "The things we’re doing with Nastia -- we’re taking her to a higher level," Morgenstein told me in mid-June. “Of course,” he added almost as an afterthought, "she still has to do well in Beijing."
I know: women's gymnastics as practised in the U.S. is nuts. So, for that matter, is women's figure skating. Both events are so appealing to a certain demographic, and as a result draw in so much money, that they've had the shit corrupted out of them. For athletes spending a decade eating pasta, this report may as well have come in from the Cassini probe: it's utterly alien to the rest of the Olympic experience, where even gold medals can be won in comparative obscurity.

This epitomizes so much of what is wrong with the Games, and why you and I are here at the back of the field, looking for something a little closer to the purported Olympic ideal.

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DFL 2.0

A couple of features new to DFL this time around. First, this blog now has a page on Facebook, so if you're on Facebook, why not visit, become a fan, and say hello. And second, I'm using Twitter to post short and pithy observations about the Olympics, not necessarily about last-place finishes; I'll be using it, for example, to provide a running commentary on the opening ceremonies, which are imminent. If you're a Twitter user, feel free to follow the DFL account; the most recent Twitter posts ("tweets") will be on the sidebar as well.

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Let the Games Begin

It's likely that if you're reading this blog entry within a day or two of my posting it, you're probably familiar with DFL and its purposes and methods. If so, welcome back: all you really need to know is that DFL is back for the 2008 Beijing Games.

If, on the other hand, you're new to this blog, a little explanation might be in order.

DFL is a blog that celebrates participation in a smartassed way, by chronicling the results of the Olympic athletes who come in last place in their events. The premise is simple: that anyone capable of making it to the Olympics is deserving of our respect and praise; that anyone competing at the Games is almost certainly better at their sport than anyone who isn't at the Games; and that even a last-place finish at the Olympics is an impressive achievement -- because it's the Olympics.

Here's how it works. I report on the last-place finishes in every event, except for those events in which a last-place finish is not possible. (In boxing, for example, you might have 16 boxers eliminated in the first round; there's no way to figure out which of them is in last place.) When I give the last-place result, I will frequently compare it to the gold medallist's result, to give you a sense of the spread. Many readers have noticed how competitive the field really is, and have noted in specific cases that a last-place result would have blown away the competition at any weekend track meet.

An important point is that an athlete must finish to qualify as a DFL -- disqualifications, DNSes and DNFs are not eligible for this (admittedly dubious) honour. A DFL is different from a DNF: it's the worst mark on the board, but it is, at the very least, a mark on the board.

DFL's tone is irreverent -- DFL, after all, stands for "dead fucking last" (it's athletes' slang) -- but my purpose is not to mock last-place finishers. I'm often asked what Olympic athletes think of this blog. To be honest, I've never heard from one, but I can't imagine anyone actually enjoying being mentioned here. Nobody goes to the Olympics planning to come in last. But in almost every competition, someone has to.

No, I target those who feel humiliated or expect an apology when their country's athletes don't perform up to their standards. I don't like it when people take their national insecurities out on their athletes.

And I really don't like the nationalist bullshit that is the medals race, where something is being measured, but it isn't athletes' performance. Which is why I satirize it with standings of my own, by tabulating the number of last-place finishers by country. The country with the most last-place finishes at the end of the Games "wins." Ties will be broken by the size of a country's athletic delegation, if possible -- i.e., a country with six last-place finishes but 40 athletes will finish "ahead" of a country with six last-place finishes but 80 athletes.

The point here is to take the piss out of the medals race by providing its opposite, but there has been a tendency, during the past two Olympics, to take it a little too seriously, as though the fact that Greece had the most DFLs in 2004 and Romania had the most in 2006 actually mean something. The fact is, the medal standings don't mean anything either. Each race, each competition, each sport is sui generis.

There's always a story in every last-place finish. For the most part, it's pretty mundane: in a relatively evenly matched field, someone was just a few seconds -- or even a few tenths of a second -- slower than everyone else. Sometimes a last-place finish is the result of an accident or bad luck, and sometimes it leads to a tremendous expression of character: the triathlete who grabs his bike and jogs to the finish line; the alpine skier who skis back to redo a missed gate. As I argued during the 2006 Torino Winter Games, "there's something important being expressed whenever somebody crosses the line after hitting the ground, long after everyone else has finished."

And, yes, sometimes it's that loveable goofball in the mold of Eric the Eel or Eddie the Eagle that the media craves. Now that the IOC and national Olympic committees have cracked down on noncompetitive competitors, there aren't as many characters as there used to be. But the stereotype persists, to the detriment of everyone else who comes in last.

There are, in other words, a lot of different kinds of last place finishes; DFL looks at them all.

It'll be about a day before the first results come in; while you wait, why not peruse the archives from the 2004 Athens Games and the 2006 Torino Winter Games? (Daily archives are available via the calendar on the sidebar.) I also have a few other items for you that I'm working on, plus some housekeeping items that I should have wrapped up by the weekend.

Thanks for stopping by. Let the Games begin!

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