2014 Winter Olympics Medal Standings, More than 1,000 years ago, the Vikings evolved into fierce, intimidating conquerors. Now the Norsemen are at it again, this time in the form of the Olympic team from tiny Norway.
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This country of five million people is poised to pull off one of the great triumphs in sports by winning the overall medal race and likely the most gold medals at the Sochi Olympics. The Wall Street Journal’s medal projections for Sochi suggest the Norwegians will win 33 medals, one more than a strong team from the U.S., whose population is roughly 65 times as large. The two countries should be neck and neck for the internationally coveted spot atop the gold-medal table as well. Deep teams from Canada and Germany could challenge for supremacy, too”and keep an eye on the Russians with their home-snow advantage.
Alpine skier Ted Ligety may be a long shot for a U.S. medal. AFP/Getty Images
Norway’s Winter Olympics success over the years represents one of the unlikeliest feats in sports. Though it last swept the medal tables at a Winter Games in 1968, the country is the all-time leader in both gold and total Winter Olympics medals. And even though it lacks Cold War political ramifications, the “Knut vs. Goliath” battle between Norway and the U.S. in Sochi should make for one of the most entertaining Olympic medals races.
At bottom, it’s a competition between two diametrically opposed approaches to success in Olympic sports. The U.S. will bring 230 athletes and challenge for medals in everything from speed and figure skating to alpine skiing and Nordic combined, an event that requires both cross-country skiing and ski jumping. Meanwhile, Norway will focus its fire almost exclusively on Nordic sports that involve some form of cross country and ski jumping.
“We concentrate where we can do well, and on what is closest to our hearts,” said Gerhard Heiberg, the International Olympic Committee member who organized the 1994 Games in Lillehammer.
At last year’s World Championships in Nordic sports, Norway won 16 gold medals and 30 overall. If it repeats that performance in Sochi, it could conceivably win both medal races without even bringing ice skates, alpine skis or a curling stone to Sochi.
Kikkan Randall in cross country is a better bet. AFP/Getty Images
The Journal’s forecasting system, which has proved accurate to within a few medals in the last two Olympics, takes into account basic information such as interviews with experts and the performances of athletes in recent national and international competitions. But rather than simply anointing first-, second- and third-place finishers in each event, the model assigns probabilities to the top medal contenders, then uses those probabilities to project the most likely outcomes.
For instance, Germany’s two top duos in doubles luge”Tobias Wendl/Tobias Arlt and Toni Eggert/Sascha Benecken”have won every World Cup event this season. They have finished one-two in six of eight races. Together, the two teams are a combined 80% favorite to win the gold by our count. A tandem from Austria has a 20% chance.
On the other hand, Ted Ligety, the American alpine skiing champion, performs in far more competitive events. He is the world’s best technical skier, but he hasn’t been on a Super G podium this season, even though he is the defending world champion in that event, so his chances of prevailing in Super G are just 25%.
To compile the figures, we enlisted sports actuary John Dewan, founder of Stats LLC, to tally the probabilities and run 1,000 simulations of the Games.