Now that the swimming is over, Australia is likely to see its rankings in the Olympic medal tally start to fall. To feel better about this situation, people like to start pointing out that we still look pretty good for a small country and it’s certainly true that of the countries currently in the medal tally (as at 22 August 2008), we rank only 36th in terms of population. Ever since I blogged about the data-sharing site Swivel, I have been regularly updating a data-set with the medal tally. So, it was a simple matter to add in population as well. The chart below provides a high-level overview of the medal results by population. It shows both the total number of medals won and the gold medals. The further a country sits in this chart above a 45 degree line, the better it is doing by population.
So Australia’s performance certainly looks good on this basis. On the other hand, China’s large medal haul doesn’t look too good and India’s performance looks terrible. However, many of the smaller countries are lost in the cluster of points in the bottom corner, so here is a chart of the top 25 countries in terms of score per million population (score is calculated as 3 points for a gold medal, 2 points for silver and 1 for bronze). Jamaica tops the rank, but we come in a respectable sixth place. Some Australians may, however, be disappointed to see New Zealand pip us into fourth place.
Of course, looking at performance by population does not take into account the fact that Australia spends a lot of money on sport, especially through funding the Australian Institute of Sport. Unfortunately, digging up figures on expenditure on sport around the world would be rather tricky, so I’ve chosen Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a rather crude proxy. All the GDP figures are in US dollars. Looking at medals on this basis, China’s efforts now look far better than the USA which is a standout under-performer. India too has retreated back into the dot cluster. At first glance, Australia’s results still appear quite respectable.
Total Medals (blue) and Gold medals by GDP
The chart below shows the top 25 countries in terms of score per US trillion dollars of GDP.
Zimbabwe comes out on top, reflecting more than anything else the collapse of their economy under Mugabe’s rule. Jamaica is not far behind in second place and Mongolia takes the bronze. Australians may be disappointed to see New Zealand scrape into the top 25 while we do not: we are near the back of the pack in 58th place (although we do look rather better only considering gold medals by GDP).
I also found an interesting blog post on the +plus site that looks at modelling medals in terms of both population and GDP as well as the boosting effect of being the host country. Perhaps when the games have finished, I will run this model on the final medal tally.
All the data used here is available on Swivel. I was intrigued to discover that, within hours of posting the data, someone had featured the data in a chart on Youcalc, yet another data-exploration site which I had not previously been aware of. Here is a the Youcalc chart, which shows medals by population or GDP and is more interactive than Swivel charts
(although the units for GDP are not correct and should read “trillion” not “million”).
UPDATE: Thanks to Martin English for the pointer to the LA Times “Medals per Capita (MPC) blog”, and in breaking news, the Bahamas are now back at the top of the MPC ranking. Also, Australia is now ahead of New Zealand in medals per capita!
ANOTHER UPDATE: YouCalc chart changed to trillions.
YET ANOTHER UPDATE:
Jamaica is now back on top in the MPC rankings. A Silver in the Men’s 4 x 400m relay has shot the Bahamas back to the lead in the MPC stakes.
2021 UPDATE: for those of you who may have come across this post during the Tokyo Olympics looking for more up to date information, you may find this site of interest.