Olympics: Medals Per Capita
Okay so I’ve seen a lot about the medal count this year at the Olympics, partly because Americans are always down for a competition like that, and partly because the British did very very well. On the NBC coverage, they said that a host country can expect a quarter to a half more medals than they would average otherwise – a clear home field advantage.
One thing I haven’t seen is medals per capita. How do we actually fare when you take out the massive amounts of people that countries like the US, China, and Russia, typically in the top five, have to draw from? Could the British, with their high medal count, do better than the US if per capita?
Another question would be funding, too. Unlike many countries, the US provides no government sponsorship for the Olympic team or training athletes while in others have huge state run programs to develop athletes. Many of the feel good stories told about the olympians provide a contrast that is in part because of this. For example, facilities in Ethiopia and Kenya are notably poor when existant, but their Olympians are treated like royalty (unless you happen to be Tigist Aregawi), and athletics brings in much needed money. On the other hand, in the US, our facilities are top notch – even a high school rubber track does pretty well – but NBC reports the average Olympian makes only $15,000 USD a year, and most athletics do not provide a route out of poverty but rather one that, unless you can get a scholarship in your sport, leads into it.
Now I can’t really analyze the economics of it all, or look at how much countries spend to host and whether or not it actually helps the economy or drains them, or the rewards for an athlete in our own country, but I can indulge in some traditional recession nationalistic competition and see how we stack up per capita. That’s doable! (Population provided by, who else? Wikipedia.) I’ve been tossing this question around for a few days, so I might as well do it myself!
Starting with the US, we won 46 gold medals and 104 overall. That makes about one gold medal per 6.83 million people, or one medal per 3.02 million people. There is our measuring stick. So how did we do?
China, in second place with 38 gold and 88 overall has a much higher population, so they have one gold medal per 35.46 million people or one medal per 15.31 million people. Russia is fourth in the gold count with 24 gold and 82 in total, doing a good gold per 5.96 million people or a medal for every 1.75 million people, definitely more medaling per person than the US. Korea is in fifth in the gold count with 13 gold and 28 total, making a gold for every 3.85 million people or a medal for every 1.79 million. Depending on whether you are looking at gold or overall, Russia and Korea are in the same bracket.
For our darling host country (leaving out the Commonwealth here!) Great Britain came in third in the gold count with 29 gold, and 65 medals overall. The United Kingdom has an estimated population that is just less than 20% of the US, a bit less than the amount in our two most populous states, California and Texas, combined. The Brits earned one gold for every 2.15 million people, or a medal for every .958 million people. Out of the top five, Great Britain definitely wins the per capita count! That is mighty deserving of congratulations.
But what of everyone else? Do any of us top fivers make the cut? Almost:
Top Ten Gold Medals Per Capita
1. Grenada: 1 per 105,000 (1 gold, total population)
2. Bahamas: 1 per 353658 (1 gold, total population)
3. Jamaica: 1 per 676,456 (4 gold)
4. New Zealand: 1 per 739,103 (6 gold)
5. Hungary: 1 per 1.25 million (8 gold)
6. Trinidad and Tobago: 1 per 1.32 million (1 gold, total population)
7. Croatia: 1 per 1.43 million (3 gold)
8. Lithuania: 1 per 1.59 million (2 gold)
9. Slovenia: 1 per 2.06 million (1 gold, total population)
10. Latvia: 1 per 2.07 million (1 gold, total population)
The United Kingdom places at 10th with 1 per 2.15 million. Russia is 26th, Korea is 27th, and the US places at 28th in gold medals per capita.
In contrast, the ones at the bottom (but still have gold medals) are:
Bottom Ten Gold Medals Per Capita
Don’t worry, Canada! You do well in Winter! In short, less populous countries that can field olympians can do well, and I suspect the way the country and population support the olympians plays a role in their success. China has a lot of success, yet is in the bottom ten in terms of population. On one hand, China is just that darn big, but you could probably make an argument for the ability to draw on the complete population that a little country like Grenada can do (there’s gotta be someone here who can do something!) that even a tightly controlled state like China cannot accomplish. Dead center is Russia, and you could look at countries like Russia and other “middleweights” like Ireland, France, Azerbaijan, Korea, the US, and Serbia, as some sort of balance between ability to draw olympians and ability to successfully train those Olympians to win. At least, that’s my initial impression.
Now for the All Around Competition:
Top Ten Medals (Any) Per Capita
1. Grenada: 1 per 105,000 (1 medal, total population)
2. Jamaica: 1 per 225,485 (12 medals)
3. New Zealand: 1 per 341,124 (13 medals)
4. Bahamas: 1 per 353,658 (1 medal, total population)
5. Slovenia: 1 per 514,495 (4 medals)
6. Mongolia: 1 per 568,000 (5 medals
5. Hungary: 1 per 586,000 (17 medals)
6. Montenegro: 1 per 620,029 (1 medal, total population)
7. Denmark: 1 per 620,528 (9 medals)
8. Lithuania: 1 per 637,540 (5 medals)
10. Georgia: 1 per 642,514 (7 medals)
Bottom Ten Medals (Any) Per Capita
79. Saudi Arabia
The UK is 22rd, Russia is 33rd, Korea is 36th, and the US is 50st. Dead center are Australia, France, and Canada.
Initially, I’d make the same argument about the golds, but it seems from the numbers that the sheer ability to medal, to finish in the top three of any event, is a major accomplishment in of itself and is, in a way, a different beast. These are the countries that can pull serious finishers out of their population rather than, say, find a unique individual to train to win. It’s the difference of having just Chen Ruolin of China, or just Michael Phelps instead of Michael Phelps AND Ryan Lochte of the US, or Usain Bolt AND Yohan Blake of Jamaica, in their respective events. Et cetera. Training a core rather than energy into an individual, perhaps? Luck of the draw? Again, small countries can draw a core to train, even if it is a small core with a small amount of medals to show for it. How that plays out in real life, I really don’t know, but that’s a first glance at the numbers.