DFL

Celebrating last-place finishes at the Olympics. Because they're there, and you're not.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some questions about DFL that I received during the Athens Games. I thought it'd be useful to present them here along with my answers for future reference. I'll add to this list as more questions present themselves during the Torino Games.

What does DFL stand for?
Good question. It's athlete's slang for coming in last. The D stands for "dead", the L stands for "last", and the F is, well, obvious.

The athlete numbers you're using in the standings aren't right. You say there's this many athletes from my country, and I know that's wrong.
Finding the correct size of each country's delegation has been a bit of a challenge. At the Athens Games, I started by using numbers I pulled from the official site, but readers pointed out that those numbers were no good. Per someone's suggestion, I opted to use numbers from the Yahoo! Sports page, and for Torino I'll do that again. Sizes of Olympic delegations are taken from this Yahoo! Sports Athletes page. They may not be perfect -- for example, the Canadian delegation size on that page does not match the numbers given by the CBC during Opening Ceremonies coverage -- but they'll have to do.

What about team sports? You're using athlete delegations to rank the last-place country results, but if a team finishes last, it only counts as one last-place finish.
A gold-medal team may get 25 individual medals, but it only counts as a single medal in the country standings, so I'll adopt that practice for the last-place finishes as well. It's also much simpler for me.

Shouldn't you adjust for larger countries or larger delegations?
Someone with more math skills could take up that challenge, but I don't think it's germane. I address this to some extent by breaking ties by athlete delegation size: a country with fewer athletes finishes "ahead" of a country with more athletes but the same number of last places.

Should qualifying heats really count?
Events with heats are more complicated than timed events that run just once (like downhill skiing, speed skating or the marathon). I've decided to report the slowest time recorded in the event, regardless of whether it was posted in the heats, semis or finals -- usually, it will be posted in the heats. It's hard for me to argue that someone who finished last in the finals should get a DFL over someone who posted a slower time in the heats.

It seems crazy to award the DFL to someone who finishes an event when there are other athletes who couldn't even manage to finish!
Not when you consider what DFL means. "Better DFL than DNF," someone once told me -- the implication being that it's better to finish last, so long as you finish. Those that came last were at least able to put a mark on the board -- a mark that we can compare ourselves (and the gold-medal winner's results) against. We're celebrating the last-place finish, not searching for the athlete most deserving of our derision.

New answers posted February 20:

Where did you get the idea for DFL?
While watching the Athens Games in 2004, it suddenly occurred to me that it would be a neat idea -- in an off-kilter sense -- to chronicle all the last-place finishers in each event. The rationale for that came quickly, and is all over this site today. But what really made the idea take off was my girlfriend Jennifer telling me about the acronym "DFL" and what it stood for; she and her teammates had used it frequently during lifeguarding competitions. When I found out about that, the project caught fire -- sometimes all something needs is a great title.

Will you be doing this again?
I'm not sure. I wasn't sure, at the end of the 2004 Olympics, whether I'd be back for 2006. It's a big job that takes me away from my other projects, even if it's only for two weeks every two years. The Summer Games are also much bigger than the Winter Games. It's also clear that at some stage the point I'm trying to make about last-place finishes will have been made, and this blog will start getting repetitive. I outlined the reasons for doing it again for Torino; if I have the time, energy and motivation to do it again for Beijing, Vancouver or London, I may. But I'm taking this one Olympics at a time.

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