Who’s really winning at the Olympics? – Update on the following post

Usain Bolt the 100m and 200m, Mo Farah takes the 5000 and 10,000, Michael Phelps to win…everything. Olympic results are predictable. Well that depends how you look at it. Everyone so far has been focussing on the medal haul of each country, but what does performance look like if we factor in a few more variables?

At the halfway point of the games we’ve been playing around with some data to see which countries really have performed well in the games so far. You’ll be surprised at the results.

THIS DATA IS AS OF AUGUST 16 2016Check then update we did at the end of the games

Medal haul:

In terms of just medals, things are quite predictable. You’ve all seen this table, the US way out in front, with the UK and China scrapping for second (table based on a points system – Gold = 3, Silver = 2, Bronze = 1).


One thing we can say for sure looking at the medals table is: size matters. In order to have a large medal haul,  lets say over 25 medals in total, size of population and economy might are clearly a factor. There is no country that has more than 25 medals that has less than 60m inhabitants and out of the top 15 countries with, the only non-OECD countries are China and Russia (judged on GDP per capita). The top 20 countries in terms of government expenditure represent 68% of all medals won.

Proportion of Each Team to Win Medals:

What about the amount of medals compared to team size. North Korea, with a team of 35 managed to win seven medals, that’s a whopping 20% of their athletes. Grenada, had a team win percentage of 16.7% – although they’ve only won a single medal so they’re more of an outlier, while the US team saw 15% of their athletes win a medal. When you look at team size you get a real mixed bag in the top 10 with teams from all over the economic and population spectrum.


And What About Gold Medals?

Out of nowhere, Kosovo, competing for their first time have the highest percentage of their team with gold medals, but with their only medal a gold and a team of 8 athletes, it’s a Grenada type scenario. But doing well again is North Korea, the second highest gold medal ratio of 5.7%, just beating Great Britain (5.2%) and the US (5%). The other stand out nation is Jamaica with a gold medal ratio of 4.4%.


Medals by Government Expenditure:

Unfortunately we don’t have statistics for expenditure on sports by country, so we’ve had to settle for gross government budget in relation to medals. So who’s getting the most bang for the tax payers’ buck?


The mighty outlier Island of Grenada on top again. While they only have the one medal, their tiny island and equally small government budget mean they still top the table. North Korea are the stand out with seven medals, including two golds at just $471m per medal. Armenia and Jamaica (4th) both bringing in medals for under $1bn each. Using this variable, not a single OECD country makes it into the top 15. In fact the first OECD country with a major medals haul is the UK with each medal costing $20.2bn. The top two economies in the world, the US and China each paying $48bn a medal.

Medals Per Capita:


We all expect the US, China and Russia to do well with their big populations and history of sports, but when we factor size of population, we get much different results.
Due to their tiny populations, the islands of Grenada and Bahamas, with one medal each come out on top of the pack. New Zealand, placed in third doing particularly well for their size taking 22 medals. Looking at population, the US finishes one place below Russia in 43rd representing one medal per 3.8 million inhabitants and China comes 8th from bottom (only counting countries that have won medals) with one medal per 27m people.

Conclusions…so far…

So, it seems that while the big countries are cleaning up in terms of quantity, on other variables a host of smaller nations are going one better. North Korea right at the top of the pile on a number of different (lesser?) variables.

With two weeks to go, can the Chinese overtake the UK, will North Korea still be able to maintain it’s pre-eminent position as the leader of the lesser metrics? Come back at the end of the Olympics for the final results.