How Massachusetts Measured Up in Olympic Medals by State
Americans, from those running NBC on down to the viewers at home, love tracking the medal count—the measure of how many prizes each nation took home from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The U.S. didn’t dominate this year by that measure, taking just 28 medals to host country Russia’s 33. But it left us wondering: how did Massachusetts do compared to the other states?
By our rough count, the Commonwealth came in second with six Olympic medals. Only Michigan, with seven, did better. Third place was a tie between California and Utah. Second place!
Of course, measuring the number of medals per U.S. state is a bit complicated. These athletes are young and they’ve moved around a lot to compete, making their “home state” a bit ambiguous. We went with either their birthplaces or declared hometowns as best we could determine them, but with margins of just one medal between states, we caution you not to put too much stock in the results.
It’s worth noting that Massachusetts would have gotten hosed if not for the team medals awarded to the women’s hockey and the figure skating teams, where we were well represented. Massachusetts athletes didn’t really distinguish themselves in individual competition this year. Still, we beat our historical record. Business Insider tallied up all Olympic medals, summer and winter, won by each state since 1924, and there, Massachusetts comes in just 19th place.
The larger caveat, of course, is that medal count is an inherently flawed measure of a nation’s athletic talents. As The Atlantic‘s Richard Florida argues, it might tell us more about the population and wealth of a state than their national character. If you divide the medals won by the nation’s GDP or the number of athletes they sent, you find that “the top performers, after adjusting for the size of each country’s population and economy, turn out to be smaller countries in colder climates.”
That trend holds when you look at the United States, too, where less populous but wintry western states punched above their class. Sure, California and Utah each took five medals. But California has five times as many people. If you measured by population or GDP, states with four medals like Wisconsin and Idaho would surely jump up the ratings (and wealthy, populous Massachusetts would fall).
The larger, larger caveat, some would argue, is that medal count can become a distraction from what’s awesome about the Olympics. That’s even more true when you compare U.S. states against each other. The important thing in a fairly culturally united place like America is that they all compete for Team U.S.A.