Team USA might fall short of USOC's 'minimum' medal expectation at 2018 Olympics

The United States has, to some degree, recovered from an overwhelmingly poor start to the Olympics. Between Wednesday and Thursday of the 2018 PyeongChang Games’ final week, Americans scored nine medals, including historic cross-country skiing and women’s hockey golds.

But as a team, they’re still well short of expectations – their own expectations.

In fact, their combined medal total might wind up being lower than their own Olympic committee could have fathomed. The Associated Press got hold of a spreadsheet presented to the United States Olympic Committee board last year. The slide set the “target” for total medals at 37, the “stretch” goal at a whopping 59, and the “minimum” at 25.

This chart obtained by The Associated Press shows the U.S. Olympic Committee’s medal projections for the 2018 Winter Games in a slide presented last year to the USOC board. The USOC targeted 37 medals for Team USA in PyeongChang, South Korea. (AP Photo)

It’s unclear what exactly that “minimum” is – minimum number of medals acceptable? Minimum imaginable? Either way, the U.S. sits four shy of that “minimum” with two days left.

With 90 events complete, Team USA has 21 total medals. It therefore needs four from 12 remaining events simply to reach its floor. And there’s a very realistic possibility it does not get four.

It well get at least one, from its men’s curling team, which competes for gold Saturday in Korea. But it is already out of contention in women’s curling and men’s hockey, and from the other nine events, three medals would be an optimistic prediction. Here’s what’s left:

  • Alpine skiing: Team event
  • Cross-country skiing: Men’s 50K mass start
  • Cross-country skiing: Women’s 30K mass start
  • Bobsled: Four-man
  • Curling: Men
  • Curling: Women
  • Hockey: Men
  • Snowboarding: Men’s big air
  • Snowboarding: Women’s parallel giant slalom
  • Snowboarding: Men’s parallel giant slalom
  • Speed skating: Women’s mass start
  • Speed skating: Men’s mass start

The strongest medal possibilities, aside from men’s curling, appear to be in men’s big air snowboarding and the men’s speed skating mass start. But there isn’t much else. The U.S.’ top alpine skiers won’t compete in the team event, deflating medal hopes there.

The U.S. has improved its percentage of overall medals over the past week, from 5.8 last Friday to 7.8 this Friday. But it is still on pace for its worst haul since 1998.


Year U.S. medals Olympic events U.S. % of available medals
2018* 21* (?) 90* (102) 7.8* (?)
2014 28 98 9.5
2010 37 86 14.3
2006 25 84 9.9
2002 34 78 14.5
1998 13 68 6.4

*90 of 102 events complete

So where, specifically, has the U.S. fallen short? Basically all over the board. It targeted a minimum of two bobsled medals, and will likely only get one. It targeted two luge medals, and got one. It targeted one biathlon medal, and will get zero. It targeted four speed skating medals, and will likely get two or three. It targeted four alpine skiing medals – from Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn – and got three.

The many freestyle skiing and snowboarding events are typically American strengths at the Winter Olympics, and they have been again in PyeongChang. But with three such events left, the USOC’s target of 18 medals between the two categories seems wildly overzealous. The U.S. currently only has 10 – two shy of its minimum target.

In fact, most of the targets seem overly optimistic, and that’s not just hindsight bias. The spreadsheet shows that Team USA underperformed the USOC’s 2014 expectations by 14 total medals – 28, versus a projection of 42. Yet the USOC didn’t aim much lower four years later.

Why? Perhaps because the projections, per the AP, are used to allocate funds to different sports. Presumably, the higher the targets, the more funding the board would be inclined to approve. In the AP story, Alan Ashley, the USOC’s chief of sport performance, acknowledged the underperformance and said he’s prepared for questions from the board about the shortcomings.

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