Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Dream is to Become a Zebra: Thoughts on the Olympics

Three times in the last week I have received an email or a link to an article asking me to give money to a player whose "dream" was to "win an Olympic gold medal". There is only one problem here. Each one of those people has exactly zero chance of winning an Olympic gold medal. If this post causes you to call me a mean, hard-hearted old lady, save your breath. Gary Butts calls me that every time he talks to me and I've known him for 11 years and it hasn't had a bit of an impact. Let me refer you to a wikipedia article on Olympic qualification for judo. While you're there, give them some money.
Qualification for Judo at the 2012 Summer Olympics will be based on the world ranking list prepared by the IJF on 1 May 2012. The top 22 men or 12 women from the world rankings in each division qualify, subject to a limit of 1 judoka per NOC per division. Further continental quotas (Europe 25, Africa 24, Pan-America 21, Asia 20 and Oceania 10 across both sexes and all divisions) also qualify subject to an overall limit of 1 per NOC.
(Interestingly, this other article by Burton and Fallon, who presumably know better than wikipedia, say it is 22 men and 14 women.) Let me clarify this. Each division will have the top 22 men in the world qualify, but only one per country. Let's say you are #99. You don't qualify. If two of the top 22 in your weight are from France and two are from Japan then the selection moves down and picks #23 and #24. You still don't qualify. The article by Burton and Fallon goes on further to state:
This list is used to add 25 more entrants from Europe, 24 from Africa, 21 from Pan-America, 20 from Asia and 10 from Oceania. However, in this phase, only one athlete per country can qualify across all weight categories and both genders. To take Europe as an example, where 50 countries could feasibly qualify an athlete, 25 different countries will end up filling those 25 continental places. This ensures a large number of countries get the chance to take part in the Games. In addition to this, there is a maximum of two athletes per continent, per category at this stage. (For example, Africa can only send a maximum of two athletes to the women's -48kg event using this method, regardless of which countries they come from.) There are 20 further invitational places on offer, which will be confirmed between May and July 2012.
In other words, if you are an American/ Canadian/ Mexican or any other Panamerican NOT in the top 22 men you have exactly ONE spot for your country that can be given to you or any of the other 13 weight divisions. You better be the number one non-qualified person out there. If you are ranked number 99, you are not that person. Even after that, you could conceivably get one of those 20 "invitational" places based on God knows what. While the means of determining those invitations is undefined, as far as I know, you had better believe the competition is going to be fierce to get them and I don't even want to think of the political trading, in-fighting and back-biting that will ensue. If it was me, I would NOT want one of those invitational spots.
It's like the old joke about the two guys who went hunting in a forest known to have grizzly bears. One hunter asked the other wasn't he afraid that he wouldn't be able to outrun a bear. The other replied,
I don't need to be able to outrun a bear. I just need to be able to outrun you.
If you are not in the top 22 in the world and not the top-rated in your country across all weights and both genders, then your chance of going to the Olympics is limited to one of the 20 invitational spots. I think it extraordinarily unlikely that more than one of those is going to a single country, although stranger things have happened. To this point, I'm questioning the probability of these people even GETTING to the Olympics. Now, let's say you manage to somehow obtain one of those invitational spots. Let's overlook the fact that your odds of doing that are only slightly better than me winning the 2010 Olympics in luge, which, need I point out, are already over and I did not win.
If you have not managed to crack the top 22 (really more likely the top 24 or 25 since some countries inevitably have more than one in the ranking) over a four-year qualification period, by what miracle are you suddenly going to become best on the planet on a day when ALL of the best players are expected to show up and bring their A-game? What would I suggest that you do, other than quit trying to raise money? Take an honest look at your life. When I retired from competition, I was very, very fortunate that I had the man of my dreams waiting to marry me and a good-paying job from which I was on leave. I also had a very definite idea of what I had been giving up the past decade and what I wanted to move on to - having more children, raising a family, moving up in my career. Think about what else do you want to do? WHY are you number 99 or 47 in the world anyway? Did you not train enough, did you not train in the right places, were you injured? WHY do you want to go to the Olympics anyway? I won the world championships then I went back to work, got married and had more children. When the first opportunity for women to compete in the Olympics came up, I took a pass on it and have never one day in my life regretted that decision. A few weeks ago, my niece asked me if I thought a person with a masters degree from a state university would make as much money as a person with a bachelors degree from an Ivy league school. I told her, other things being equal ,no. A lot more people have masters from state schools than bachelors degrees from the Ivies. She said,
Thank you for crushing my dream.
I told her,
I didn't crush your dream. Reality did. Find a different dream.


Anonymous said...

Is this the stats blog or the judo blog? :P

Anonymous said...

To her it the same thing.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

It depends on the day (:

Lex said...

Ranking is everything and you make a good point about the distinction between dream and reality, but it should be said that just because you're not in top 22 now, doesn't mean you can't get there quickly. Khashbaataryn Tsagaanbaatar from Mongolia just got bronze at the Tokyo Grand Slam. He was ranked 147th (according to the commentators). Of course, he's a bad example, because he also happens to be the 2009 world champion.

Stephen said...

You know, when my daughter was a small child, in kindergarten, they told her when she grew up, she could be anything. Her dream was to become a cat.

A good thing she has transitioned to reality. ;)

Reminds me of some advice I gave someone in another professional field that has very few openings in an area where she had experience.

I told her to quit telling people her dream was to be the Easter Bunny when she grew up. Sure enough, fifteen minutes on her resume, she got a job the next week, after several months of frustration.

Day dreaming isn't dreaming.

Though you can tell your daughter that if she graduates with a bachelors from one of the Cal State schools -- and does good enough work, the Chinese government will have the State Department ask for her by name.

You can overcome a lot of things, but not by failing to apply yourself in the ways that matter.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

You make a valid point, it is POSSIBLE to move up in the rankings quickly. However, putting on my statistician hat - the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. If we have an equation that has multiple predictors including X1 = current ranking and X2 = highest previous ranking, it is possible a person who is very high on X2 but low on X1 may end up scoring high on Y (= 2012 ranking). It is much more unlikely that a person who is low in the current rankings and has never won anything (in some cases, never even placed higher than third in anything) will suddenly win an event that catapults him or her to the top.