One of the great myths of sports in the modern era is that American families sit down together to watch the Olympics on TV. For the most part, we don’t.
Oh, people still talk excitedly about the marquee stars of the Games over dinner, and we gather around the tube and flip on NBC during the broadcasts. We just aren’t really watching the Olympics.
Instead, what we see on network TV in the United States is a pre-taped, carefully-edited batch of Olympic footage and mini-docudrama movies. Lots and lots of mini-docudrama movies. Complete with the sappy narration and the inevitable “tinkly” piano music.
Lo and behold, even if a figure skater is ranked 50th in the world, if her tinkly-piano movie is shown prior to the skating footage, why, she always wins a medal! Wow, I bet the broadcasters feel so lucky when that happens! And happens. And happens.
It’s kind of like pro wrestling, in which you can tell who’s going to win based on the ring introductions.
Then once an event is “over,” NBC rubs it in with still more obviously-fake business. “Look, it’s the USA bobsled team. They just crossed the finish line 5 minutes ago…but here they are in-studio all the way across town in their street clothes. Heck, these guys really do move fast!”
The refusal of television producers to broadcast some semblance of the Olympics as they actually happen winds up cheating a lot of fans. If we could see the rudimentary moves of the Ukraine gymnastics team, the flying and flipping of USA and China gymnasts would look 200% more impressive by comparison. If the Men’s Downhill were shown in its entirety, viewers could identify the fastest paths down the mountain instead of staring blankly at look-alike runs from 5 skiers.
But our country’s weird Olympic Games coverage might hurt gamblers most of all.
Winter Olympics Predictions: The Deceptive Medal Count
Norway set a record by winning a total of 39 medals at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, beating the United States’ record of 37 in 2010. To some observers, it had to have appeared as though the Norwegians were taking part in some other “secret” version of the Olympics while other countries racked-up medals in the real event.
The Scandinavian country did not win a medal in either the men’s or women’s ice hockey tournaments. Norwegians certainly didn’t dominate in snowboarding – in fact Norway didn’t earn a single medal from the popular new “X-Games” category of Olympic competition. Nor did the country win a medal in any of 5 figure skating categories.
Was the Norway Olympic Team dominating the mountain venues, then? Not necessarily all of them. Norway even went 0-for-3 in the bobsled races.
So how was the record possible? Because the competitions like ice hockey, figure skating, and bobsled are among the “glamor” events of the Olympics that everyone always remembers, we forget that there are an awful lot of gold medals given out in other venues.
There are more medals handed out for the biathlon – an ancient sport in which cross-country skiers must stop to shoot at an invading army, nay, targets – than for the entirety of the luge and bobsled combined. Short-track and traditional speed skating combine to produce a total of 22 sets of medals, 66 in total…while the ski jump only produces a dozen total jewels.
They might make movies (actual feature movies, still plenty of tinkly piano) about “Eddie the Eagle” and his Olympic ski jump:
(Good Lord, that was cheesy. Moving on…)
But even if Eddie would have somehow won a medal in the event, he couldn’t have done much to stop countries like Norway and Germany from racking-up huge tallies in the medal count. They’re on the skating tracks and the cross-country slopes, picking off medals 1-2-3 like snowy rifle targets.
You may not be an expert in biathlon or speed skating, or have the time and wherewithal to become such an expert prior to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China.
However, an in-depth knowledge of every sport at hand may not be the only angle by which to handicap futures lines for the medal count.
For one, Bovada Sportsbook is making things easier – and a little more exciting – by offering futures markets on the winning gold medal count, not the overall medal count. That puts less emphasis on handicapping the also-rans and sneaky medal contenders and more emphasis on looking at the big shots and celebrity-athletes.
If all of a country’s short-odds contenders won gold at a particular Winter Olympics, the team would surpass the 14 gold medals earned by Norway and Germany in South Korea. Knowing when an athlete or a nation is overrated and overhyped in a sport – not just any sport but one that produces a truckload of bling – is a key to finding the most solid group of flag-wearing representatives on the betting board.
But why invest money in a futures betting market that won’t pay off for another 3 years?
A Long-Term Seed for the Futures Garden
In a recent blog post on long-term sports futures, I gave the opinion that while a sportsbook that operates as a stock market does – with “investments” on teams and athletes paying off in % based on their total wins or other measurements of success – may still be far in the future, a bettor may simulate the steady-rising advantage of a stock portfolio by planting a “garden” of bets with outcomes that will have a chance to pay-off once per week or once per month.
Yes, the tactic I recommend involves taking sports gambling advice from this guy:
But the principle is a good one. “Stagger the harvest” so that not all of your futures picks are potentially set to pay off (or bust) at the same time, and your long-term gambits will feel more like investing in shares than engaging in an all-or-nothing lottery.
In other words, you don’t need to worry about how far in advance a given futures wager is made. You only have to have a spot open for it on the calendar. If you have your next 6-12 months of monthly-outcome futures bets “booked” already, then a wager that could produce a windfall in 2022 is as good as any to take a peek at – if you added a ton of more short-term bets to an already lined-out series of outcome dates, it could ruin your bankroll-management system anyway.
Fortunately the Winter Olympics in Beijing don’t seem like such a dizzying chore to handicap against the bookmaker – not after you see just how compact the Olympics actually are.
The sports of the Olympics are grounded in history and tradition. It’s hard to get a new winter sport (or summer sport) added as an official event by the IOC. That means that while the Olympics appear to be a 2+ week gala in which lots and lots of champions are competing in lots of sports, it’s actually quite a compact group of events held at a thin number of venues:
There are 7 total sports currently approved by the IOC at the Winter Olympics, and the same basic format will accompany the Beijing torch in 2022.
7 sports in Beijing. That doesn’t seem like such a daunting number to handicap.
Especially when we already know what the most-important sets of events are, at least vis-a-vis the gold medal count.
Stuck in the Middle With Red, White and Blue
Could a nation win the 2022 gold medal count by rocking & rolling in the glamor sports and winning just enough on the ski slopes and the speed-skating track to get by?
That’s the key factor in predicting Team USA’s chances of topping the most podiums in China. The United States excels at big-time Olympic events like figure skating, ice hockey, and snowboarding, but meanwhile those wintry European countries are collecting most of the gold.
If Team USA can somehow improve its winning chances in alpine skiing and ski jumping – traditionally not strong suits for the Stars & Stripes – then it would be easier to crack double-digit gold medals in a single Olympiad, as Of course, that idea assumes that the Yanks won’t slip in events in which they are often favored to win the gold.
In the case of figure skating, sometimes it’s an actual slip.
(If any WWE Superstars are searching for a really devastating new finishing move, look no further than :24 of this delightful YT.)
More often the Yanks are stuck in the middle – not monopolizing enough stand-alone competitions (or enough speed-skating golds) to make up for a deficiency on the mountains.
Team USA gamblers can be assured of a gold medal on the hockey rink in 2022. The women’s team just won its 5th straight World Championship in Finland, and while the ending was mired in controversy after a tough challenge from the Suomi hosts, that’s mostly due to GK Noora Räty’s brilliance. Team Finland’s amazing GK will likely retire or at least diminish by the time the 2022 Olympics arrive in Beijing. Canadian women’s hockey is likewise on a downward trend.
Meanwhile, though, it’s nearly impossible for the USA to win Men’s ice hockey gold in 2022 unless something changes. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has succeeded in his quest to make the annual Ice Hockey World Championship the premier international shinny competition by killing the league’s participation in the Winter Olympics.
That leaves Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League in position to dominate. Team Russia will likely win every Men’s Ice Hockey gold medal at the Olympics until Bettman retires from the commish’s chair in 200 or 300 years.
Finally, the United States curling community was thrilled as the Yanks won a rare gold in The Roaring Game in South Korea. But it’s unlikely to be repeated any time soon. With so many other countries catching up in the “X Games” categories, it could be even harder for America to notch 10+ golds next time around.
But overall medal-count contenders are still threatened by the USA due to the nation’s wealth and diversity leading to solid also-ran status in a plurality of winter games.
Here’s updates on each of Bovada’s 4 gold-medal count favorites for 2022. How will each nation fare at the podium in China?
Norway ((+160) Odds-to-Win Most Gold Medals in 2022)
Norway has now tied for 1st in the gold-medal count at 2 consecutive Winter Olympics. Is the country on an inexorable upward trend in winter sports?
The medal-record in Korea was fueled by a powerhouse cross-country skiing team that took home 7 gold medals. Johannes Høsflot Klæbo won gold medals in the Men’s Sprint, Men’s 4 x 10 km Relay, and the Men’s Team Sprint. On the women’s side, Ragnhild Haga was impressive with multiple golds.
Don’t overlook the biathlon. There might not be a prohibitive disadvantage for other countries on the ski slopes, but Norway produces fast times and accurate marksmanship when the 2 skills are paired.
Biathlon, bobsled, luge, and Nordic Combined success paved the way for Germany in 2018, accounting for 12 of the country’s 14 gold medals. Laura Dahlmeier is a biathlon powerhouse who captured the gold medal in the Women’s Pursuit and the Women’s Sprint.
Andreas Wellinger won gold in the ski jump with a form slightly-better than Eddie the Eagle.
Improvements in speed skating, short-track speed skating, snowboarding, and alpine skiing programs could take the German team to the next level. A lot of potential gold was left on the table in Korea.
Germany has won the most gold medals and overall medals at the Winter Olympics since 1924.
United States (+400)
2018 was not up to par with past performances of Team USA, though as always there were plenty of individual talents on display, and some bold new successes outside of curling. The duo of Jessica Diggins and Kikkan Randall took home the USA’s first-ever gold medal in cross-country skiing.
Alpine skiing remains a weakness for the U.S. team, as opportunities for several gold medals slipped away in Korea. Mikaela Shiffrin’s victory in the Giant Slalom was the only gold.
Speed skating is traditionally a strong suit as well. But the USA won nary a gold medal in those events in 2018. It was only snowboarding that saved the day.
Analytics experts believe that more countries are receiving the funding and resources to raise athletes who will challenge rich nations like the United States. I’m not so concerned about that, but what happens when other nations get better on the freestyle slopes, and the constant golds in snowboarding begin to melt away?
Canada has recently won the gold-medal chase. The proud nation’s 14 gold medals in 2010 topped the table.
Freestyle skiing and speed skating are becoming Canadian institutions. Canada’s men dominated in the oval rink in Korea, with Samuel Girard taking home the Men’s 1000 and Ted-Jan Bloemen winning the Men’s 10,000. Sébastien Toutant took home a dramatic gold in snowboarding.
The upward trend of Canada at the Winter Olympics illustrates the transition of winter athletes focusing on a wider range of sports instead of focusing on only the traditional Canadian events. But what you’ve really got to like is that so many key performers are young and improving.
Long-Term Picks for the Beijing Medal Table
Sorry, fans of Team USA Olympians. Actually I should apologize to myself – I’m a fan too. But even though the odds at Bovada appear tasty at (+400), the United States is a nation that struggles to mount the middle podium 10 or more times during a Winter Olympics.
There just aren’t enough figure skating and women’s hockey golds to go around.
Our futures-portfolio system involves looking at low risk (i.e. small bets) and high payoffs, so I will not recommend a play on either of the favorites from Norway or Germany…except to say that gold-medal tables are cyclical and that the Norwegians are probably over-hyped a little bit at (+160).
Look at Team Canada as a 6-to-1 bid with a ton of upside. Canada is successful in glamor sports such as skating, curling, and hockey (if one country is destined to knock-off the KHL All-Stars without the aid of active NHL talent, it’s Canada) while outperforming the Americans at Olympic venues that give out a ton of gold for individual sports and relays.
The “sweet spot” of winning the prime-time TV broadcasts (and getting your country’s own cliché tinkly-piano score) plus winning in the “quiet” events with mondo-medals is probably still not achievable for Team USA in 2022. But it can be done by the Canadians, who are solid contenders much wider array of events than in ages past.
And if you’re looking to gamble on Team USA just for good luck, look in another market where you might not need it to get a payoff. The United States is a solid pick to win the most-overall medals in Beijing, even if the Americans can’t earn gold after gold on the ski slopes.