Olympic Competition: Summer Vs. Winter?

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Which Is Better? It Depends On Your Point Of View.

Every couple of years, when the Olympics arrive, the discussion starts up again: Which is better — the Summer Olympics or the Winter? Purists will argue that the Winter Olympics aren’t even legitimate, given that there’s no ancient precedent for them, and that they’ve only been around since 1924, whereas the Summer Games, which appropriately debuted in Athens in 1896, are the true athletic contest. (Though would you have wanted to argue that with the “agony of defeat” guy?) I personally go for the ice and snow, myself, partially since I’m more of a cold-weather person, but also because I simply find the events more insane and exciting.

So I did a bit of research to determine if there really is a more popular Olympics, at least here in the United States. Looking at the numbers below, it’s easy to conclude that the Summer Games have the definite edge. But the numbers can be deceptive. At the very least, they don’t tell the whole picture: In the same way that each Olympics is different, the broadcast coverage of every Olympics also varies. Not only do the total number of viewers who have access to the Olympics change with each Games, but the total hours of coverage fluctuate wildly as well. For instance, the amount of coverage given to the 2004 Athens Games worldwide represented a 27 percent increase over the coverage of 2000’s Olympics in Sydney — an unbelievably significant difference when you consider that the criterion for what constitutes a “viewer” is someone who watches a mere six minutes of coverage during the entire 17 days.

In short, it’s probably not possible to fairly compare the data from one Games to another, whether it be between summer and winter, or between Games of the same season. Whether the 2012 London Olympics will surpass Beijing’s in total viewers remains to be seen. Will I be among them? Almost certainly. But in the back of my mind, as I do every Summer Games, I’ll be quietly wishing for winter.

Summer Olympics: Total U.S. Viewers
Beijing, China (2008): 214 million
Athens, Greece (2004): 203 million
Sydney, Australia (2000): 185 million
Atlanta, USA (1996): 209 million
Barcelona, Spain (1992): 192 million
Seoul, Korea (1988): 194 million

Winter Olympics: Total U.S. Viewers
Vancouver, Canada (2010): 190 million
Torino, Italy (2006): 184 million
Salt Lake City, USA (2002): 187 million
Nagano, Japan (1998): 184 million
Lillehammer, Norway (1994): 204 million*
Albertville, France (1992): 184 million

*Interest likely skewed by the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan scandal.