Answer to Map #43

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Answer: This week’s map was a proportional symbol map in which the symbols marked the birthplaces of all of the men who have won Olympic gold medals in water polo in this century. The sizes of the symbols indicated the number of gold medal winners born in those cities.

As we mentioned at the outset, the scale was just a little bit wonky. That’s because Budapest is the hometown of 15 gold medalists, but we have rounded it up to 16 to work nicely with our base-two logarithmic scale. The second largest dot indicates Dubrovnik (home to 8 gold medalists). The third largest indicate cities with more than 4 gold medalists (Belgrade has 5; Novi Sad has 4).

The idea for this map came ultimately from a proud Hungarian, who worked out the birthplaces of all the gold medalists in order to demonstrate how all of them were born within a small circle. This map was then picked up by Brilliant Maps, which described it in English. We thought it might work better as a proportional symbol map, so we used the same data originally compiled by the Hungarian website to make our version.

What both versions of this map indicate quite clearly are that men’s water polo is a big deal in a very particular part of the world. Hungary won gold medals in 2000, 2004, and 2008. Croatia won in London in 2012 (with Serbia third and Montenegro fourth), then Serbia beat Croatia in the gold medal match to win in 2016. One reason why these countries are so good is that they host competitive professional water polo teams. And if thousands of screaming fans will buy tickets to watch the games, why not?

It’s interesting to note that some sports are popular in particular regions. Water polo is one of the sports whose enthusiasts clump together the most. Consider the case of collegiate water polo in the United States. The NCAA has held a men’s water polo tournament every year since 1969 and a women’s tournament every year since 2001. Can you guess how many universities from a state other than California have won a national title in either tournament? That’s right: zero. And how many non-California schools have finished second? Again: zero.

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