Friday, August 29, 2008

Olympic Medal Analysis

Clearly, China was using the 2008 Olympics as a political stage in an attempt to show that they are not only in the 21st century, they are leading the way. This wasn't the Beijing Olympics, it was the Chinese Olympics.

To that end, they did a great job.

I've been curious about the Olympics and the medal count that was shown everywhere. As Americans, we've grown accustomed and expect to lead the medal race. There was something odd though. The Chinese actually had more golds (after the very first medals awarded on the first day to the US Women's Fencing team who swept the medals there).

So, I got to thinking. China had more gold, but the US had more overall medals. Do you count only gold (the gold is, after all, given to the actual winner), do you count total medals? Surely, gold are worth more. What if you weighted the total medal count to give more credit for doing better?

If you're going that far, why not factor in the population of the country? The top three medal winners, no matter how you count them were the most populated countries. What about proportion? What about rich countries? Can you "buy" more medals?

If you were curious too, then I have the break down for you.

First, I start with the raw data of the top eleven countries (I meant to do the top ten, but I miss counted) as ranked by the official Olympic site. Then I include the population in millions, then the Per Capita GDP based on the IMF report (references sited below).

I move the decimal point around a bit to show more clearly the breakdown. The number of gold medals by population, for instance, is in the ten millionths (or only one in ten million for the low end). Since I move the decimal, the same amount for each country there should be no problem.

I sorted by the numbers in the first column of each table, but I highlighted the winners of the other categories in each table as well.

So here are the results. The winners were: China, US, Australia and Ukraine (I know it looks fuzzy, but if you click on the charts they will pop up big and clear)

By the way, the rest of the top 20 were: Netherlands, Jamaica, Spain, Kenya, Belarus, Romania, Ethiopia, Canada and Poland.


Blogger Acad Ronin said...

When the differences between gold and silver come down to barely measureable parts of a second, or to subjective judgments, treating all medals almost equally would seem to be appropriate. Not surprised that Australia does well in the Summer Olympics - rich country with great weather and an outdoor culture.

As for that counting to 10 thing, I find that using my fingers helps. :-)

9:24 AM  
Blogger Tim Worstall said...

Tsk. It's entirely obvious that the British Empire got the most medals.

As it always does, of course.

9:10 AM  
Blogger LTC John said...

"The top three medal winners, no matter how you count them were the most populated countries."


10:16 AM  
Blogger Inner Prop said...

Tim, don't you mean the commonwealth?

MJ, the most populated of the top 11 or 20.

Did anybody appreciate the breakdown?

4:32 PM  
Blogger LTC John said...

Yes, it was interesting!

I just wondered where the ol' billion person sub-continent played into the population = medals deal. I didn't realize how sports crazy India was until I saw how popular their new Cricket Super League was...they pay big bucks for players and pack the stadiums - good TV ratings too.

12:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You'll find that China's torch-lighter Li Ning thinks that the total number of medals is more important because at that level, everyone in the top 3 has the potential and is in with a chance for the gold. The difference is miniscule.

However, the actual practice everywhere else in the world -- in meets like the Commonwealth Games or the Asian Games -- is that golds 'count' first. My recollection is also that golds determined placing in Greece, Sydney, and Atlanta. Has the American press only recently used the 'total medals' standard or has it always been that way?

10:27 PM  
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