Monday, August 6, 2012

Questions of which I am less sure of the answer than the median person seems to be

It seems to be a commonly-repeated trope that the Olympic Village is a crazy party town of non-stop action and poon on tap. Lots of good-looking athletes, all of whom have been denying themselves fun for years on end in order to nothing but train, and have a very low alcohol tolerance because they haven't been drinking either. Once their event is over, they want to cut lose - if they won, they want to celebrate! If they lost, they want to party to forget it and enjoy the spectacle. Either way, they're up for wild times. You've got lots of exotic strangers that you're never going to see again, and a commonly accepted 'what happens at the Olympics stays at the Olympics' vibe. All of this sounds like the perfect storm for picking up.

We economists, however, do not take all this at face value. Remember, the default assumption is that the probability of getting laid should be the same at all bars in town. If we believe the model applies, the Olympic Village should be no better than a dive bar.

But one of the key assumptions of the model doesn't hold, namely the assumption of free entry. In other words, the Olympic Village is not open to random loser men to gatecrash. If it were, I would wager that the whole 'pickup paradise' thing would disappear really quickly. So on face, the claims might actually be true - like an exclusive nightclub keeping out the riff-raff, the whole athletes-only aspect keeps out the plebs who would otherwise gross-out the Polish volleyball team until they stopped going out for sexy party time. Barriers to entry, literal and metaphorical, keep the market from clearing.

So far, so good - the claims still seem plausible on further reflection.

But there's another aspect that still makes me a little nervous. And it's the following:

Suppose that a male swimmer spends two weeks at the Olympics without winning anything major. Without the glory of victory, his main claim to fame is the awesomeness of attending the Olympics. He comes back, and his friend says to him, 'Hey man, how was it? I hear the Olympics are a pickup heaven! Did you score with any beach volleyball hotties?'

Now, suppose further that said guy didn't in fact score with anyone. Reader, which response to do you think is more likely?

a) "No, that aspect was actually really overrated. I didn't end up scoring at all. But it was still fun!"

b) "Er, sure! I nailed this totally hot Russian gymnast! Then this Swiss Hockey player! It was wild, man!"

In other words, even if the Olympic Village weren't some kind of orgy, all the [male] participants have strong incentives to claim that it was. Because to claim otherwise is to either make everyone think that you were a loser who couldn't score in the middle of a sex party, or alternatively that the Olympics kind of sucked and that you probably wasted years of your life.

So the signal-to-noise ratio of this claim is low - I'd expect this rumour to persist regardless of whether it was actually true or not.

Frankly, I hope it is true. Training for the Olympics is almost certainly a very bad bet in expectation. Those poor buggers have been doing nothing for years but train for that moment, and it's a mathematical certainty that most of them are going to go away disappointed. A two week wild party is a pretty good consolation prize. Then again, when you think about how much they had to pay, in terms of the opportunity cost of those endless hours of their lives, it's still likely to be a rotten deal, more akin to the casino comping you a hotel room after you've gambled away thousands of dollars.

That thought may not be likely to enter your head when looking at the Scandinavian pole vault contingent, but it's probably true.


  1. You can theorize like an idiot, or you can look at the data.

    And even if you consider what (even FEMALE) athletes say "cheap talk", here's some hard data for you (from the article):

    Then, at the 2000 Sydney Games, 70,000 condoms wasn't enough, prompting a second order of 20,000 and a new standing order of 100,000 condoms per Olympics.

  2. Interesting. I'll grant you that the female testimony is more compelling on this point than the male testimony, since they have less incentive to stick to the narrative of 'look how many strangers I hooked up with!'. Although the line "the only thing missing is privacy -- nearly everyone is stuck with a roommate. " would make it a little harder. Then again, people seem to find ways around it on college campuses all the time.

    My basic guess, though, is that, like everywhere else in life, it depends a lot on your game. Since jocks might tend towards natural alphas, there's probably a fair-sized selection component working in favor of it being a hookup town.

    So to that extent, I'd wager that it probably is a fantastic place to pick up if you've got some tight game, if you've got any game at all you've got a pretty good chance of scoring with at least somebody, and if you've got no game, it ultimately won't help you much.