So it seems like when you put forward the proposition that “the Dutch totally owned it at Sochi” then you find yourself popular among the Dutch! To my Dutch readers: welkom!

It seems, though, that I should try to answer the question “was the Dutch performance at Sochi really so exceptional?” So very quickly I whipped up this chart of unweighted medal efficiency since Nagano, and, guess what – with one crazy exception, nobody has ever even come close to the Netherlands in 2014:


I know what you’re thinking: “WTF? What is that giant tower in Belgium?” The answer, my friends, is Bart Veldkamp. In a crazy irony given the subject under consideration, Bart Veldcamp golded in ‘92 and bronzed in ’94 in the 10,000m speed skating…for the Netherlands. He then apparently had some sort of falling out with the Dutch speed skating/Olympic community, and managed to become a Belgian in time to be Belgium’s only athelete at Nagano, where he bronzed the 5000m, thereby giving Belgium an outlandish 100% return on their sole Olympian. Who was a Dutch skater.
If we pay our dues and then remove Mr. Veldkamp, the chart now looks like this:


Now it’s very clear – in the last five Winter Olympiads, at least, nobody has ever remotely come close to touching the Dutch performance except for…the Dutch themselves, at Nagano. The next best performers were Norway in ’98 and ’02, but their efficiency score of 0.32-0.33 in those Games don’t hold a candle to the Dutch at Sochi, who won nearly six medals for every ten athletes they sent.

This is especially interesting because one of the curious (or perhaps not-so-curious) facts about the Olympics is that they are generally very predictable. To illustrate that, here is the graph of national changes in performance from one Games to another, again from Nagano to Sochi:


The average change is just three-quarters of a medal, with a standard deviation of around a 4.5 medal-change. As you probably guessed, the orange bar is The Netherlands at Sochi; the only two other positive changes in performance that large were the United States, who had their big breakout at their home games in 2002 (before that, Nagano’s 13 was our national best; since then we’ve never won fewer than 25 medals) and Russia, who obviously did very well at home this year after a lackluster performance in Vancouver.

If you want to see the frequency of performance change, well, you didn’t think I’d leave you hanging, did you?


There’s the Dutch, with what you might call a “3.3 sigma event,” a change in performance over three-and-a-quarter standard distributions from the mean (though clearly this is not a normal distribution; if it was the odds of it happening would be 0.06%, which is obviously at odds with the fact that it happened three times in 120 tries, which is 2.5%). Nevertheless, the Dutch achievement at Sochi was a unique and, at least in the recent past, historic one. Koesteren in uw historische overwinning!

And with that, I am done commenting on the Winter Olympics, for real this time.