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What sport is the easiest to earn an Olympic medal in? I’m voting for doubles luge.

I’m not saying it’s an easy sport – I’m sure its hard not to flip over and it certainly looks uncomfortable – but I am saying that given how few people are competing in it globally, if you’re taking part, your odds of winning a medal are relatively high. Some sports, because of global popularity and ease of access are certain to attract more competitors, and some of them will be freakish athletes. The more popular the sport, the larger the pool of athletes and the harder it is to stand out. The more obscure and inaccessible the sport, the fewer chances a superior athlete will land there and the better chance an average athlete can succeed.

What sports are the hardest to medal in?

(I’m going to leave out soccer, which is the world’s most popular sport, but at the Olympic level, participation is constrained by some arbitrary rules concerning age.)

1, Running. OK, I will cop to some personal bias here, but in terms of universality and ease of access, I can’t think of a more wide open sport – the number of people who have been in some sort of footrace in their lives probably dwarfs the number who haven’t. It’s contested  in every country and requires literally no equipment (not even shoes – ask Zola Budd).

2, Boxing. Contested everywhere. Even by people who don’t know it’s a sport.

3, Basketball. Some equipment required, but it’s immensely popular around the world, including in high population countries like China, Russia, Brazil and the U.S.

4, Volleyball. There are apparently 220 national volleyball associations, the most of any sport. If it’s played in more countries than there are countries, seems like its going to be hard to medal.

5,  Table tennis. Any sport that’s big in China is going to be hard to crack. But ping pong is popular around the world

What sports are easiest to medal in? In reverse order this time:

5, Equestrian. What percentage of the world population A, owns a horse that B, is willing to jump C, with you on it?

4, Synchronized swimming. Not only do you need a pool, you need a culture that appreciates Esther Williams movies.

3, Ski jumping. The ski jumping complex at Sochi cost $265 million. Don’t expect one at your neighborhood rec center anytime soon.

2, Bobsled. There are just 17 bobsled tracks in the world and an individual sled can cost up to $100,000. This is not a mass participation sport.

1, Doubles luge. There’s the same problem bobsled has, with only 17 tracks  in the world and none in China or India. There’s the risk of maiming, which probably limits its popularity. And then you have to convince someone to do it with you. I’m guessing the total field of doubles luge athletes is under 5,000 worldwide, or fewer competitors than in your average Central Park road race. So if you’re one of them, congratulations. Your odds of medaling are excellent.

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