Olympic Medals per Capita – Update

by Stubborn Mule on 24 August 2008 · 20 comments

Since my last post, about Beijing 2008 Olympic rankings by population and economy size, there has been a lot of action in the medals per capita stakes. The Bahamas knocked Jamaica from the number one spot with a Bronze in the triple-jump, only to have Jamaica regain the crown as it continued to win Gold in track and field. Then, with a Silver in the Men’s 4 x 400m relay, the Bahamas got to the front again in what is now an unassailable lead.

For the blow-by-blow on MPC, visit the LA Times MPC blog. I can’t help mentioning that Australia has now pulled ahead of New Zealand!

Previously, the charts I used were static, unable to keep up with these rapid changes so, although the Games are drawing to a close now, I thought I would include Swivel charts which will update as the last results come through. This time I am showing rankings in terms of a simple total medal count per million of population (previously I used a points system, 3 points for Gold, etc).
Beijing Olympics 2008: Medals per mil. Population by Country
There has been a lot less movement in the medals by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) stakes, but for completeness, here are the top standings in that race. This chart shows total medals won per trillion US dollars of GDP. Zimbabwe remains firmly in the lead.
Beijing Olympics 2008: Medals per tril. GDP by Country
With Jamaica in second place (after sitting in first for much of the competition) in terms of both medals per capita and third per dollar of GDP, I am now prepared to declare Jamaica the winner of the overall adjusted Olympics.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jon Peltier August 24, 2008 at 12:50 pm

I wonder how these charts would look if you assigned all of the medals to the country in which the athletes trained, rather than to the country for which the athletes participated. This would show a country’s ability to train world class athletes, not merely to have athletes claim nationality in that country.

2 stubbornmule August 24, 2008 at 2:43 pm

@Jon: it’s an excellent question. I’d also love to be able to look at medals per dollar spend on sport, which would give some indication of return on investment. Unfortunately, getting hold of the data for either of these question is tricky!

3 Don Malvo August 24, 2008 at 3:46 pm

@Jon – even by that count Jamaica would still end up winning overall, as almost every one of their medals were won by locally-trained athletes, including those won by Usain Bolt. Of the gold medal winners, only Veronica Campbell-Brown was not trained in Jamaica by Jamaican coaches. In fact, your criteria would probably even end up boosting their tally, as one of Great Britain’s medallists actually also trains in Jamaica.

Stephen Francis’ MVP Track Club represents the bulk of the island’s medal winners with the exception of Bolt, who is trained by local coach Glen Mills.

Source: http://mvptrackclub.com/Page1.php

4 stubbornmule August 24, 2008 at 3:49 pm

@Don: I suppose also that most athletes training outside their own country would be training in large, rich countries such as the US, France or the UK. Re-assigning them to the training country might harm the MPC or per $ GDP ranking of the smaller country (although I take your point that Jamaica’s standing looks safe), but the large rich countries are so far down these rankings, that I don’t think it would make a very big difference to their standing.

5 stubbornmule August 24, 2008 at 9:32 pm

Very late in the piece, Iceland has won Silver in the Men’s Handball, putting them in 3rd place in the MPC stakes, pushing Australia down to 5th.

6 Jon Peltier August 25, 2008 at 12:37 am

@StubbornMule: The large rich countries wouldn’t gain much by the analysis I proposed, but many of the small countries would disappear from their artificially inflated positions on the normalized lists. Zimbabwe’s place at the head of the per GDP chart would vanish, since its four medals were won by a woman who has lived and trained in the US for the past 6 years.

7 stubbornmule August 25, 2008 at 7:53 am

@Jon: Thanks for the information about Zimbabwe. This means that there are two reasons why we shouldn’t be too impressed by this: (1) the numeration: because all the medals were won by an athlete who did all her training in the US and (2) the denominator because its GDP has been pushed so low by Mugabe’s disastrous leadership.

8 stubbornmule August 25, 2008 at 9:38 am

I should add that Mongolia, who won an early Silver with the women’s 25m pistol, made a late run into second place in the MPC stakes with boxing and judo medals. I don’t know where their athletes trained!

CORRECTION (see below): Mongolia is actually only in second place in GDP terms, not per capita.

9 stubbornmule August 25, 2008 at 12:45 pm

Don’t know what happened there (dodgy eyesight?) but Mongolia is actually further down the MPC ranking and so Australia is still fifth per capita. But Mongolia has pushed Jamaica to 3rd place in medals by GDP.

10 Richard August 25, 2008 at 5:28 pm

Interesting weighting method – I use http://www.symworld.com/medals/index.php for adjusted comparison – but then again am a one-eyed kiwi living in Australia so will automatically go to the site which ranks NZ ahead :o)

I read recently that the average Australian taxpayer spend per medal is approx 17.3 million dollars (AUD) and the NZ taxpayer spend per medal is approx 10 million (NZD) which is, balanced for currency difference, a factor of 2:1 (which sounds about right).

However I don’t think taxpayer spend (or for that matter GDP) is a fair yardstick. There would surely be economies of scale, and it taxpayer $ doesn’t take into account *actual* per-athlete spend. If you have 1,000 athletes who have $10,000 spent on of them, and between them they get 1 gold, you spent $10million on that gold….but only $10k per athlete.

As Jon mentioned above, there should be also a reference to the country the athlete trains in, as there are numerous athletes who reap the benefits of top-line competition in other countries.

Finally, the figure fails to take into account athlete endorsement and sponsorship. A top athlete from Kenya is hardly likely to garner the same income as Mr Phelps or Ms Rice will, and I feel this is a huge contributory factor.

I am immensely proud that NZ can mix it with the world – c’mon, man, we are a small country with a small economy way out the arse-end of nowhere – and think Australia can be justifiably proud of its achievements as well. I also think that the gap between the top 8 or so countries and the rest of the world continues to grow, and that’s sad, because the focus has moved away from the joy of the sporting contest to the self-satisfaction of dominating the medal table. That’s sport in the modern age, I guess.

11 stubbornmule August 25, 2008 at 5:43 pm

@Richard: Thanks for your comments! I saw the Symworld rankings and mine are essentially the same. Crikey used this data and quoted the Gold per Capita rankings, which certainly put New Zealand ahead of Australia. However, if you switch to Symworld’s total per capita ranking then, as in my data, Australia jumps ahead (the same is true if you look at “score” per capita with 3 points for Gold, etc).

There are a few little errors in the Symworld data. For example, they have got the Dominican Republic’s population out by a factor of 10 (their figure is too small), and so ranked them too high. Also, they have a very large estimate of Zimbabwe’s GDP (at least compared to the World Bank or the CIA World Factbook), which is why they don’t have Zimbabwe on top of the GDP rankings. Of course, this place is nothing to celebrate as it just reflects the parlous state of their economy!

My starting point in exploring this data was to think about return on investment as there is no doubt that Australia spends a lot on sport. Of course getting that sort of data across countries is extremely difficult and, as you point out, even then other problems would arise such as where athletes trained.

As you say though, all in all Australia and New Zealand do perform extremely well. Of course our media do seem to be a little upset that with the UK starting to spend money on sport that they are now doing much better than in the last few Games. Once they have the host boost in 2012, there’s no telling how well they’ll do, so we need to brace ourselves in preparation for the resurgent Britons!

12 Mongolian August 28, 2008 at 1:05 pm

Regarding Mongolian atheletes’ training country, I can say all 4 medalists have been training in Mongolia.
Actually, Mongolia exports olympic medalists to other countries.
DORJSUREN Munkhbayar from Germany who won bronze medal in women’s shooting, have participated Olympics Games as Mongolian athlete. But this time she chnaged her citizenship to German.

13 stubbornmule August 28, 2008 at 1:07 pm

@Mongolian: thanks for the information…makes the Mongolian results look all the more impressive!

14 stubbornmule September 10, 2008 at 8:19 am

I have now started tracking the Paralympics medal tally in the same way.

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