The 2008 Paralympic Games are now well underway in Beijing. Since my Olympic medal charts on Swivel proved popular, I have now created a data set for the Paralympics as well, which I will be updating regularly (source: Beijing 2008 Paralympics website). One of the topics I touched on during the Olympics was the influence of the size of a country’s population and economy on their performance at the Games. This topic did prove controversial with at least one reader and the links may be more tenuous for the Paralympics. Neverthless, I will risk revisiting the subject here.
While I do still plan at some point to present some more detailed analysis of these effects on medal results, for the moment I will make do with quoting from the conclusion of the paper “Who Wins the Olympic Games: Economic Development and Medal Totals” by Andrew B. Bernard and Meghan Busse.
While the simple population hypothesis does have explanatory power, it fails to adequately explain the distribution of medals across countries. We find significant evidence that other resources, national income in particular, are important for producing Olympic athletes. Interestingly, per capita income and population have very similar effects at the margin suggesting that total [Gross Domestic Product] GDP is the best predictor of national Olympic performance.
On that basis, looking at medals by GDP is the best measure of extraordinary (or at least unexpected) performance and so I will start there. At the time of writing, a familiar face is topping the GDP table: Jamaica is in the lead, thanks to a win in the Men’s Discus Throw by Tanto Campbell. When the 2008 Olympic Games concluded, I deemed Jamaica the overall winner, based on their third place rank by GDP and second place rank per capita. It will be interesting to see if they can maintain their lead in the Paralympics too.
UPDATE: Tunisia and the Ukraine have now established strong positions in first and second place, while Jamaica is down to 15th.
Despite the fact that the Bernard and Busse analysis points to population being a less significant determinant of medal success, I cannot resist including a medals per capita (MPC) chart. In the spirit of the LA Times MPC blog, I would therefore like to congratulate Karolina Peledritou, whose win in the Women’s 100m Breaststroke put Cyprus at the top of the MPC table.
I feel I should also note that Australia is currently in second place.
For those after a more conventional medal tally, I am also including a chart showing the results by Gold, Silver and Bronze.