A few members of our family were answering the question: If you could compete in any Olympic sporting event, what would it be?  My first response was, of course, the premier event – the triple jump. Setting that aside, I got thinking that, as an engineer, I could figure out what event in which to compete. Here is my reasoning.

The goal is to win a gold medal. And even though the gold medals in these Olympics are only 1.34% gold, there is something to be said for the honor and prestige of winning, I guess.

My thought is that I would want to compete in an event that has the smallest difference between the third and first place finisher. I could make this the sixth and first, or the tenth and first. But I will stay with the third place to the first place, just to demonstrate my engineering solution. The reason to choose this approach is that I would like the best chance to move up to first place, thinking that I will not start in first. So, as we consider just track and field events (the original Olympics), and look at some of the times and distances for various competitions that were completed in this year’s Olympics, we can see which event it would be easiest to move up by calculating the percent of time or distance that the third place was compared to the first place. Of course, for distance events, one wants higher numbers, for time, lower. Therefore, the percent of the lower place score will be below 100% in distance events and above 100% in time, so we will compare the difference from 100%.

Here are the results (all time in seconds, distances in meters):

Event 1st 3rd % Diff % 3rd off 1st
100 m 9.63 9.79 101.66% 1.66%
200 m 19.32 19.84 102.69% 2.69%
400 m 43.94 44.52 101.32% 1.32%
800 m 100.91 102.53 101.61% 1.61%
1500 m 214.08 215.13 100.49% 0.49%
10000 m 1650.42 1651.43 100.06% 0.06%
110 m Hurdles 12.92 13.12 101.55% 1.55%
400 m Hurdles 47.63 48.1 100.99% 0.99%
Shot Put 21.89 21.23 96.98% 3.02%
Discus 68.27 68.03 99.65% 0.35%
Long Jump 8.31 8.12 97.71% 2.29%
Triple Jump 17.81 17.48 98.15% 1.85%

I will now start training for the 10000 meter run. I will forget about the Shot Put.

Run the numbers. It’s the only sensible way to decide.