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Medal Check: projections say after Day 5, U.S. has work to do in gold race

By Jerry Hinnen | College Football Writer
Even once you account for the Olympic schedule, the U.S. will still need more surprise gold performance like Nathan Adrian's to take the gold medals title from China. (AP)

Smart basketball fans know that points-per-game aren't the best way to measure whether Team A has a better offense than Team B, since teams that play fast score more points than teams that play slower--even if the slower team is more effective on a per-possession basis.

Which got us to thinking: yes, at the end of the fifth day of competition, China holds the lead in both total medals and most gold medals in the medal count, 30 to 29 and 17 to 12, respectively. In the gold medal race, in particular, China looks to have a commanding lead.

But what if that's more a product of the Olympic schedule than Chinese dominance? Several of the disciplines in which China excels -- shooting, weightlifting, diving -- are being competed now, while two fields in which the U.S. flexes its muscle -- team sports and track-and-field -- give out their medals closer to the Games' conclusion. At the same time, the U.S. has endured several jarring defeats in the swimming pool while China has been the London Aquatics Center's biggest surprise.

So who's really ahead? To answer that question, we surveyed three different pre-Games medal projections: those from Sports Illustrated, USA Today, and the Associated Press, all of which differ slightly (SI calls the overall medal race in favor of the U.S., USA Today for China) but agreed that the race in both golds and overall medals would come down to the wire.

If the U.S. or China was projected to medal or win gold in two of those three, that counted as a consensus. We then charted China's and U.S.'s performance over the first five days against that consensus to measure how closely each was living up to its projection--and whether China's lead might be a product of its schedule.

The answer? Unfortunately for the U.S., when it comes to golds, it's not. Both countries are exactly four medals ahead of their overall medal projection, but China has won three "extra" golds while the U.S. has won exactly the 12 they've been expected to have.

The good news for the U.S. is that as long as they stick this closely to their overall medal projections, they should be able to edge the Chinese on that count -- as they did in Beijing -- with a strong track performance. But that's not guaranteed, and taking the gold medal title away from the Chinese might have required more domination in the pool than Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, and Co. have managed to-date. Nathan Adrian's surprise victory in the 100 freestyle is a good start, but the U.S. will need more like it both in an out of the pool after the Chinese swimming performance and their continued strength in weightlifting, diving, etc.

It's not the most scientific research ever conducted, no. But we're still buying the bottom line: the overall medal count was supposed to be a nailbiter, and it's still going to be a nailbiter. But the U.S. has work to do if it wants to reclaim the most golds.

The numbers:

Gold Medals

CHINA: plus-3 over projection.

Golds "won" (+7): women's 400 individual medley; women's 10m air pistol; men's team gymnastics; women's weightlifting 58 kg; men's individual foil; women's 200 individual medley; women's 200 butterfly.

Golds "maintained" (10): womens' 10m air rifle; men's 400 freestyle; women's weightlifting 48 kg; women's synchronized 3m springboard; men's synchronized 10m platform; women's synchronized 10m platform; men's weightlifting 69 kg; men's synchronized 3m springboard; men's weightlifting 77 kg; women's table tennis.

Golds "lost" (-4): men's 10m air pistol; men's weightlifting 56 kg; women's individual epee; men's weightlifting 62 kg.

UNITED STATES: plus-zero over projection

Golds "won" (+5): women's 100 backstroke; men's skeet shooting; women's time trial; men's 100 freestyle; women's 4x200 freestyle relay.

Golds "maintained" (7): men's 400 individual medley; women's skeet shoot; women's 100 butterfly; men's 100 backstroke; women's team gymnastics; men's 4x200 freestyle relay; women's 200 freestyle.

Golds "lost" (-5): women's 400 individual medley; men's 200 freestyle; women's 100 breaststroke; men's 200 butterfly; women's individual saber.

Overall medals

CHINA: plus-four over projection

Medals "won" (+9): women's 10m air rifle; women's 400 individual medley (x2), women's 10m air pistol; women's 100 butterfly; men's 200 freestyle; men's individual foil; men's 4x200 freestyle relay; men's weightlifting 77kg.

Medals "maintained" (21): women's 10m air rifle; men's 400 freestyle; women's weightlifting 48kg; women's team archery; women's synchronized 3m springboard; women's skeet shooting; men's weightlifting 56 kg; men's synchronized 10m platform; women's individual epee; men's team gymnastics; women's weightlifting 58 kg; women's synchronized 10m platform; women's judo 63 kg; women's 200 individual medley; men's weightlifting 69 kg; men's synchronized 3m springboard; women's 25m pistol; women's 200 butterfly; men's weightlifting 77 kg; women's table tennis (x2).

Medals "lost" (-5): men's 10m air pistol; women's weightlifting 53 kg; men's 10m air rifle; women's 100 backstroke; men's weightlifting 62 kg.

UNITED STATES: plus-four over projection

Medals "won" (+10): men's 400 freestyle; women's 400 freestyle; men's 100 breaststroke; men's synchronized 10m platform; women's judo 57 kg; men's 100 backstroke; men's skeet shoot; women's time trial; men's synchronized 3m springboard; men's 100 freestyle.

Medals "maintained" (19): team archery; men's 400 individual medley; women's 400 individual medley; women's 4x100 freestyle relay; women's synchronized 3m springboard; women's skeet shooting; men's 4x100 freestyle relay; women's 100 butterfly; women's 100 backstroke; men's 100 backstroke; women's 100 breaststroke; women's team gymnastics; men's 4x200 freestyle relay; women's 200 freestyle; men's 200 butterfly; women's 200 individual medley; men's gymnastics all-around; women's quadruple sculls; women's 4x200 freestyle relay.

Medals "lost" (-6): men's 400 individual medley; men's team gymnastics; men's 200 freestyle; women's 100 breaststroke; women's individual saber; women's pair rowing.

 
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