Answer to Map #76

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Answer: This week’s map was a cartogram showing the total number of athletes from each country who are competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Some of the team sizes fluctuated a bit after we made the map, as different athletes were added to their national teams or withdrew with injuries. There was also a last-minute appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in the middle of the week by 45 Russian athletes who had been deemed ineligible. In the end, however, our cartogram was mostly correct. You can see a convenient list of the number of athletes on each team here.

The largest team at the Olympics this year is the United States with 242 athletes, followed by Canada with 226 and Switzerland with 169. The fourth largest team is the “Olympic Athletes from Russia.” These athletes are Russian, and thus Russia is represented on our map, but they are not allowed to represent Russia as punishment for that country’s state-sanctioned doping program.

How does a country get a large team for the Winter Olympics, and therefore a large size on this cartogram? A good first step is to qualify both men’s and women’s ice hockey teams. The men’s teams have 25 athletes and the women’s teams 23. The main reason that Switzerland has a larger team than Germany is that Switzerland has a women’s ice hockey team.

A lot of people figured out that this cartogram had to do with the Winter Olympics, but failed to get the correct answer. Some people answered that this map had to do with medals won at the Winter Olympics or that it has to do with the total number of athletes sent to the Winter Olympics over time. For starters, on either map, Norway would be much larger. But there’s also a very simple way to tell what this map is: South Korea is huge!

As the host country, South Korea is automatically invited to enter athletes in almost every event. For a country that does not have as robust a winter sports tradition as do many countries in Western Europe, that invitation presented some challenges to the South Koreans. But the South Koreans went out and got themselves some athletes. For the biathlon, they got some Russians: you’ll see names like Anna Frolina, Ekaterina Avvakumova, and Timofey Lapshin—all new naturalized citizens of South Korea. For women’s hockey, they got some Americans and Canadians of Korean heritage who played at North American univeristies. We particularly recommend the story of Randi Griffin, a Korean-American who has put her Ph.D. in evolutionary anthropology on hold to acquire Korean citizenship and return to ice hockey after a five-year break from playing hockey.

If you’re wondering which team has a composition most skewed toward one particular sport, you might enjoy learning about the Dutch Olympic team. The Netherlands has sent 33 athletes to PyeongChang to compete in four sports. Twenty-nine of those athletes will compete in either speed skating or short-track speed skating. Speed skating is a national obsession in the Netherlands. And since the country is so flat, it’s probably the most suitable choice of Winter Olympic sport!

There are a fair number of countries from warm climates that are sending small teams to this year’s Olympics. Ecuador, Eritrea, Kosovo, Malaysia, Nigeria, and Singapore are represented in the Winter Olympics for the first time. But a cartogram is a format that minimizes the countries that have small teams. Instead, this kind of map helps you appreciate just how much the Winter Olympics are dominated by Europe.

Next map: Click here to try out our newest map question.