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Tasman Sea change in Medals Per Capita

August 16, 2008 | 12:51 pm

New Zealand's Valerie Vili celebrates winning the gold medal in the women's shot put during the Beijing Games on Saturday.

Suddenly, we’ve got a Trans-Tasman tussle in Medals Per Capita, and anyone with any sense loves a good Trans-Tasman tussle now and then.

After a jaw-plummeting Olympic Saturday in Beijing, those wacky Tasman Sea neighbors, Australia and New Zealand, sit a smidgen apart from each other at No. 2 and No. 3 in the crucial Medals Per Capita table, and you can almost feel the Southern Hemisphere seething.

Because these two nations can seem so unspeakably pleasant to a visiting American, it's reassuring to learn they get all sore and chippy with each other over sporting events just like the rest of the absurd human race.

They have a mutual and perfectly commendable loathing over rugby, and of course, we all know they had that Underarm Bowling Incident of 1981, except that most of us probably don’t know about any Underarm Bowling Incident, and those Americans who do know probably find this Underarm Bowling Incident to be the rough equivalent of hieroglyphics.

Well, this Underarm Bowling Incident thing caused quite the ruckus, sparking criticism even from the prime ministers of both countries. It happened in February 1981 in Melbourne, when an Australian cricket captain -- get this -- told his bowler to send the last ball underarm and along the ground toward New Zealand batsman Bruce Edgar, preventing any conceivable New Zealand rally.

What all this means is actually indecipherable to the American ear and, like many foreign languages, basically cannot be learned if not taught before age 6, but the UBI became a beacon for poor sportsmanship, lousy taste and the decline of Trans-Tasman civilization.

Now, as an ever-looming T-Rex in Medals Per Capita, Australia has spent the entire first week of Beijing 2008 in the top three, stockpiling its medals to 25, racking up an MPC rating of 824,304 and reveling in its measured population of 20,600,856, all of whom can swim really fast.

Then, from completely off the charts in the zero zone, here on Saturday came New Zealand, gorging on five sudden medals. It won the women’s shot put (Valerie Vili) for its first track-and-field gold since Montreal 1976. It won a bunch of rowing necklaces. It won an MPC rating of 834,692 and a coveted No. 3 ranking given its enviable population of 4,173,460.

Sure, neither can catch No. 1 Armenia just yet, but then, for the fifth day in a row, nobody else could either.

In other Medals Per Capita minutiae:

-- With just one medal each, severe MPC threats Estonia and Trinidad and Tobago entered the charts with their intimidatingly low populations at Nos. 8 and 5, respectively, with Estonia bringing along crucial MPC experience after nibbling at No. 1 in Athens 2004 before winding up a studly fourth.

-- Medals Per Capita would like to welcome to the board No. 43 Canada, our adored neighbors to the north, up from zero medals to three on Saturday, and also would like to commend University of British Columbia student and blogger Julian W. at NowPublic.com for this outstanding line last week about Medals Per Capita: “Canada, with no medals yet, is the undefined error you get on a calculator when you try to divide a whole number by zero.”

-- Flashing rarefied badminton prowess, Indonesia went from two medals to four, and demographics experts in the crowd will sense the MPC mania that followed. With a population of a staggering 237,512,355, No. 4 on Earth, Indonesia’s additions lowered its MPC through the day from 118,756,177 to 79,179,785 to 59,378,088. Not many countries can improve their MPC by 59 million in a day, and yet, with so many countries craving MPC recognition, Indonesia dropped from 53rd (out of 54) on Friday to 55th (out of 61) on Saturday.

The top 10 (medals in parentheses):

1. Armenia (5) - 593,717
2. Australia (25) - 824,034
3. New Zealand (5) - 834,692
4. Slovenia (2) - 1,003,856
5. Trinidad and Tobago (1) - 1,047,366
6. Norway (4) - 1,161,114
7. Belarus (8) - 1,210,721
8. Estonia (1) - 1,307,605
9. Slovakia (4) - 1,311,187
10. Cuba (8) - 1,427,994

Selected others:

11. Mongolia (2) - 1,498,041
18. South Korea (20) - 2,461,642
24. Jamaica (1) - 2,804,332
32. Ukraine (12) - 3,828,690
37. Serbia (2) - 5,079,523
38. United States (54) - 5,626,382
43. Canada (3) - 11,070,898
50. Colombia (2) - 22,506,837
52. China (47) - 28,298,821
61. India (1) - 1,147,995,898

-- Chuck Culpepper

Culpepper is a contributor to The Times.

Photo: New Zealand's Valerie Vili celebrates after winning the gold medal in the women's shot put during the Beijing Games on Saturday. Credit: Kevin Frayer / Associated Press