Counting Olympic Medals

I saw this article in the LA Times about measuring Olympic Medals per capita. I like the idea, but I also think figuring in the GDP of the country makes sense. The US could throw a lot of money at an individual event and probably fair pretty well.

I got the GDP via Wikipedia and used the CIA column because it had the least NAs in it. North Korea isn’t on that list, so I added it manually from here.. Then I got the medal count from Yahoo (I mean Yahoo!).

Finally I got to use my new favorite toy Widgenie. In other news, I win a prize for having the most viewed Widgenie.


So Zimbabwe with its $151 of GDP per person wins 4 medals. They did the most with the least, so far.

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25 thoughts on “Counting Olympic Medals

  1. Maybe this is better


  2. (GDP/US_GDP + Pop/China_Pop)/Medals

    Why “+”? That would give two confounded sets of results, the ones with a favorable GDP ratio and the ones with a favorable population ratio.

  3. Yeah, Kirsty may have relocated to the US (as a lot of Zimbabweans have done in recent times) but that does not make her an American. Is Yao Ming American? Is Maria Sharapova American? Many athletes come to the US for the superb opportunities for training etc but that doesn’t make them American. Give credit where is is due.

  4. I think I typed that backward. It should be USGDP/GDP and CHNPop/Pop. I don’t know if adding those is correct – that is I know it doesn’t mean anything, but I don’t know if it’s misleading. I just want to come up with a relative measure based on the theory that it takes one or both of two things to be successful: money and a big population. So the US can do well because we throw a lot of money at the problem. And China can do well because they have a lot of people to choose from. But a country with no money and few people shouldn’t be able to do well.

    I don’t really like the second method I posted either because it always puts China and the US at the bottom. Maybe I should look at Olympic Committee budget divided medals divided by population. Or maybe GDP is a good approximation of budget.

  5. What difference does all this make ?is this another competition for another medal?or does it prove anything that I don’t understand?

  6. I did similar calculations after reading a lot of whining by Canadians that the US are so successful in medals and the Canadians are so weak. We Canadians must be weak with numbers, because it’s pretty intuitive that a country with 10x the population should have 10x the medals, other things (like wealth) being equal. I ran a multiple regression to predict medal count using each country’s GDP and population and found that these two variables predict 70% of the variance in medal count, meaning we can predict with pretty good accuracy how many medals each country should get. Deviations from that count mean that the athletes are being advantaged or disadvantaged by their national athletics program (or absence thereof). Right now, Canada should have won 11 medals, using its GDP and populations as predictors, so at 9 medals we’re slightly underperforming. Bigger underperformers are Brazil which should have 13 medals but only has 6, Japan which should have 28 but only has 20, Mexico which should have 10 but has 1, and India which should have 28 but only has 1. In terms of overperformers, the big one is Australia which currently has 33 instead of the 8 medals predicted by its GDP and population. Other major overperformers (getting at least 50% more medals than predicted by pop and GDP) are countries from the former Soviet Union (Russia, the Ukraine, Belarus), France, the UK, the Netherlands, and China (even with their massive population, they are still winning more medals than you’d predict; of course, homefield advantage helps). Some of the countries that are bringing home medals as predicted by their populations and national wealth (so their national athletic programs are no better or worse than you’d expect) include the US (which should have 78 medals but currently has 72–close enough, thanks to Phelps), Germany, Italy, Denmark, Poland and Canada. It’s nice for Americans to think they’re the top of the heap, but objectively Australia is the country that should turn your head if sports is your big priority.

  7. Dick, consider yourself lucky that Widgenie is still in beta.

    Today I created a very cool Widgenie chart, and I was going to post it at J-Walk Blog. Within two days, it would have surpassed your view count and captured the Widgenie Gold. But, alas, the embed code just didn’t work.

  8. Lucky? I earned that prize (whatever it is). If you look at the embedded javascript, the variable they define in the first line is not the same as the one in the last line. I had to fix the js manually, but I let them know.

    Leo: Don’t confuse anything on this site with things that have meaning, a point, or substance. :)

    Stat: I only had to flip through the channels on Sydney TV once to appreciate their love of sport. And on my last day there I went to a Rabbitohs match. Crazy.

  9. Statistician – The 10x population to 10x medals is not a robust measure. A country with a larger population will not have more athletes in each sport. Some sports limit the number of entrants from each country, so Cuba and China can only enter the same number of athletes. Having a larger population may convey a greater probability of winning against the smaller opponent, because the qualification process has more athletes to choose from; but if you can enter only one or two despite your larger population, your one or two may be equal to the one or two from the smaller country.

  10. Dick: “If you look at the embedded javascript, the variable they define in the first line is not the same as the one in the last line. I had to fix the js manually, but I let them know.”

    Don’t you wish you could fix your favorite Excel bug this way?

  11. I love American’s

    4 years ago you scored by Total Gold won (CBS)
    and now all of a sudden
    Total Medals (Gold + Silver + Bronze) ?

    Either way Gold or Total per capita Australia is still ahead of the US.

    Aussie Aussie Aussie

    Oy Oy Oy !!!

  12. Hui…:
    Please don’t believe that anything you see/hear on American television is presented in a fair or accurate manner.
    All reporting is aimed at increasing ratings and advertising revenue.
    Furthermore, almost all American “reporters” are raised/trained in an environment where feelings are more important than facts.
    (does any other country in the world let high schools grant diplomas based upon attendance)

  13. >”an environment where feelings are more important than facts”

    Jim, that is a profound and saddening statement, but I fully agree.

  14. C’mon, with Zimbabwe the way it is they just have to turn up to the games to come out on top of this calculation…

  15. Thanks, Hui…, but I am just a fat guy sitting on a couch. I did not win anything. Like me, the Olympics are bloated. Unlike me, the Olympics are way too self-important and taken much too seriously. After all, they are just games.

  16. All these results are incorrect and skewed in favor of poorer countries (with less GDP, that is). The reason being is the finite nature of the number of medals that can be won. So, the US, which has the highest GDP, runs into a problem of “materializing this adventage” in the number of medals because there are simply not enough medals.

  17. The GDP-normalized numbers are skewed by a more real factor than the finite number of medals available. Many athletes from the smaller countries train in the more extensive facilities of the larger countries, including at universities with extensive athletic programs. These athletes are not sponsored by their home countries, at least not completely, but by advertising contracts.


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