August 5, 2008 by Cameron Blevins
Olympic Medal Map
Great interactive graphic on the NYTimes that shows countries’ medal totals for each Olympics. You can use a slider on the top of the graphic to progress through time, and each country is represented by a varying sized circle, depending on how many medals it won that year. Not surprisingly, the United States and the Soviet Union (and later Russia) tend to dominate the one and two positions. What I found interesting was looking at each year and trying to figure out what was going on in the world and how that might have influenced the medal totals. The obvious example is 1980, when the US boycotted the Olympics. Also of note, Seoul in 1988 witnessed East Germany gain the second most medals at the games.
Finally, seeing the low number of medals going to the the southern hempisphere reminded me of the proportional maps at WorldMapper.org, which lends size to different countries based on the information it is displaying. I wish the folks at WorldMapper had some more historical data, so we could compare different factors (infant mortality, food production, etc.) with the NYTimes medal map. Also of note, the NYTimes map reinforces the problem with using proportional area/volume maps – specifically, humans are notoriously poor judges of area and volume, and particularly bad at judging the relative size of circles. A circle that has twice the area of another circle appears, to most people, as much smaller than it is. This leads to the necessity for scaling compensation with maps, as cartographers need to artificially increase the size of circles for humans to accurately estimate its relative size. John Krygier of Making Maps: DIY Cartography has a great post about the entire issue.