Sunday, August 24, 2008

Olympic medals per capita

We've all seen the Summer Olympic 2008 medal count, with China and the United states and Russia dominating the top spots, and everybody else way behind.

Canada sits at either 19th or 14th place, depending on if you think the rank is by the number of medals, or the number of gold medals.

Well, this doesn't seem exactly fair to me, as the US has 10x the population of Canada, and China has nearly 20% of the world's population!

So, I decided to waste a significant portion of my afternoon to determine who won when we consider the population of the country. So, I looked up all the medal rankings and the population of all the countries, and used "medals per 100M people" as my metric.

If you're a sucker for detail, the full results can be found here, but I will try to summarize them.

The results are as follows (Out of 87 Countries that won at least 1 medal):

1. Bahamas - 604 medals per 100M people
2. Iceland - 331
3. Slovenia - 248
4. New Zealand - 218
5 Norway - 216
6. Australia - 215
7. Cuba - 210
8. Armenia - 199
9. Belarus - 195
10. Estonia - 151

35. Canada - 54
36. Russia - 50
45. USA - 45
68. China - 7.5
87. India - 0.3 (Out of 87 countries that won a medal)

So, for Canada there is some good news/bad news here. Overall, we actually rank WORSE on a per capita basis, but we did beat the top three countries of USA, China and Russia, so that's kind of nice.

But wait a minute here, the Bahamas, Iceland and Slovenia won the olympics?! Bahamas and Iceland have populations of just over 300,000, but won 2 and 1 medals respectively. These small populations kind of throw the statistics off a bit.

So, lets say to "qualify" to be in the top ranking group, you have to win at least 5 medals.

The ranking then change slightly (Out of 41 countries that won at least 5 medals):
1. Slovenia - 248
2. New Zealand - 218
3 Norway - 216
4. Australia - 215
5. Cuba - 210
6. Armenia - 199
7. Belarus - 195
8. Georgia - 129
9. Denmark - 128
10. Croatia - 111

25. Canada - 54
26. Russia - 50
31. USA - 45
39. China - 7.5

A few interesting things to note:
  • I thought Canada might do better on a per-capita basis, we actually do worse. In the end we are somewhere in the top third.
  • China is almost dead last on a per capita basis.
  • Georgia, which is currently in a state of quasi-war, managed to still be one of the best performing countries.
  • Slovenia is a tiny country of just over 2M people that managed to pull off 5 medals. Kudos.
  • Of the top 20 countires, all but Australia (21M), Cuba (11M) and Belarus (9M) have a population under 5.5M.
  • Cuba beat the USA. That's funny to me.

After going through this, it got me thinking, what other insteresting ways might there be to determine who "won" the olympics?

  • Break the countries into divisions based on population. (I.e. "heavyweight" division would include China, India, USA, Russia, etc..., "Middle weight" would include Canada, Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, etc... "Lightweight" would include Iceland, Slovenia, Bahamas, etc...)
  • Who won on a medal-per-GDP basis?
  • What's the per capita ranking of the G8
  • To account for the amount of "summerness" that each country has , what is the per capita ranking when grouped by distance from the equator?


morejamesmore said...

Hi Timmy
Great article.
I found this widget that displays who won the 2008 Olympics from different perspectives.
It displays medals won by total medal count and gold count.
In addition it can show medals won per million inhabitant and per million dollar GDP.

I think you might like it:-)

It's free and easy to embed

A straight medal count isn’t necessarily the most fair:-)

Jason Silver said...