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Medals Per Capita table warms up to Iceland

August 23, 2008 |  4:06 pm

Members of Iceland's team celebrate victory over Spain in a men's handball semifinal at the Beijing Olympics. For two heaving weeks, you could sense a planet cringing over the prospect that its Godzilla Olympic nation, the Bahamas, would get more than one medal and put the old chokehold on the vital Medals Per Capita proceedings.

Australia turned up in Beijing muscular as ever. Armenia surfaced and spent five days at No. 1. New Zealand had banner Beijing Games and menaced. Here came Slovenia, of course. Jamaica became a blur on the track and a Zeus in the standings. The Bahamas surfaced with a first medal as a fur-flying race loomed.

And as the final weekend dawned, up popped a name so lyrical to Medals Per Capita ears that the mere thought of it constitutes a Medals Per Capita dreamscape.

Iceland.

Why, that’s Medals Per Capita poetry.

An immediate MPC darling, Iceland clinched a medal Friday by reaching the team handball final in a convulsive upset of Spain that nobody outside of Reykjavik saw coming. Iceland’s president, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, attended the match and called it the biggest climax in Icelandic athletic history. Iceland’s first lady, Dorrit Moussaieff, gave a 10-minute pre-match shoulder massage to player Logi Geirsson, Reuters reported, surely one of the coolest moments in Medals Per Capita history, Olympic history, sports history and first-lady history.

"Before the game we form a ring and take each other’s hands like the Vikings did 500 years ago," Geirsson said in the Reuters article. "And we say we’re going out on a ship to fight for our lives."

And we say at MPC headquarters, please get me a tissue, given such runaway appeal plus an understated population of 304,367 people with thick skin. Once those medals go onto Icelandic handball necks, MPC reckoned on Saturday morning, that would make Iceland a late entry at No. 2 in the standings, behind only Jamaica, which then added an 11th track medal (women’s 4-x-100) to whittle its MPC rating to an imposing 254,939 (one medal for every 254,939 Jamaicans).

Right about then, though, seeing such insurrection from everywhere, the Athens champion the Bahamas finally decided it had to bring the kibosh. Its 4-x-400-meter relay team of Andretti Bain, Andrae Williams, Michael Mathieu and Christopher Brown came through in 2:58.03, easily beating everybody but the United States.

That lifted the Bahamian medal total to two, one medal for every 153,725 Bahamians, with no word on whether that includes those using it as a tax shelter.

With one day to go, that out-of-this-world numeral would appear insuperable, unless Jamaica can come up with eight more medals, or unless Australia can get 134 more, or unless China can find about 9,000.

Or unless Iceland, beyond handball glory, could find just one.

Medals Per Capita minutiae after Saturday after the jump...

-- Gasping and straining to the wire, Australia finally corralled enough medals, 46, to overtake feisty neighbor New Zealand, surely saving itself from hearing a slew of guff from chesty Kiwi Medals Per Capita enthusiasts. New Zealand’s nine medals from a measured population of 4,173,453 had kept it ahead of Australia for day upon day upon day, even as the latter hiked its medals total from 35 to 36 to 38 to 42 to 46 just panting away for favorable long division. Finally, it came.

-- With MPC aptitude amok in the former Soviet republics, from Armenia (No. 7) to Belarus (No. 10) to Estonia (No. 11) to Lithuania (No. 12) to Georgia (No. 15) to Azerbaijan (No. 21), and even to more populous brethren Kazakhstan (No. 24) and the Ukraine (No. 31), say hello to Latvia. That sturdy nation of 2,245,423, No. 7 in Athens 2004, has surged from nowhere to No. 14 with three late medals, including Maris Strombergs’ gold in the BMX, pleasing an MPC board of directors -- sorry, board of director -- who feels deprived from having had a childhood that totally lacked Olympic BMX.

-- As mentioned on previous days, Norway tends to rule the Winter Olympics MPC, a feat perhaps more Herculean than the Summer Olympic MPC given that often during the Winter Games, people who go outside would generally be considered insane. Well, during the weekend Norway has demonstrated its extreme versatility and uncommon studliness with a women’s heavyweight taekwondo silver medal from Nina Solheim, a men’s javelin gold from Andreas Thorkildsen and a women’s team handball gold. That brings it to 10 medals, to sixth place and to undeniable status as a two-season, multi-discipline mastodon.

The top 10 (pending Iceland’s Sunday medal):

1. Bahamas (2) - 153,725
2. Jamaica (11) - 254,939
3. Slovenia (5) - 401,542
4. Australia (46) - 447,844
5. New Zealand (9) - 463,717
6. Norway (10) - 464,445
7. Armenia (6) - 494,764
8. Cuba (22) - 519,270
9. Trinidad & Tobago (2) - 523,683
10. Belarus (18) - 538,097

Selected others (from 86 countries with medals):

11. Estonia (2) - 653,802
14. Latvia (3) - 748,474
25. Great Britain (47) - 1,296,678
29. South Korea (31) - 1,588,156
30. France (38) - 1,685,730
31. Ukraine (27) - 1,701,640
35. Germany (41) - 2,009,013
36. Russia (69) - 2,039,160
39. Spain (16) - 2,528,193
44. United States (107) - 2,839,482
67. China (96) - 13,854,630
81. Sudan (1) - 40,218,455

-- Chuck Culpepper

Culpepper is a contributor to The Times.

Photo: Members of Iceland's team celebrate victory over Spain in a men's handball semifinal at the Beijing Olympics. Credit: PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images

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