Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Which are the Best and the Worst Olympic Countries?


By Tom Kando

With the imminent opening of the Olympic Games in London, I thought I’d entertain you with the following  timely information:

During a previous Olympic Games, Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Bretton bemoaned the fact that Mexico had done so poorly in terms of the medal count - just as badly as “Indo-freakin-nesia.”  This prompted me to compute the various countries’ medals in proportion to their population.


In the table below, I select 30 countries “of interest”, out of 86 that got at least 1 medal in 2008. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/olympics/2008/medals/tracker/ For the sake of simplicity, I do not distinguish between gold silver and bronze. The table ranks countries from best to worst, in terms of how many people does it take in each country to earn ONE Olympic medal?

                    Countries Ranked by number of Medals in Proportion to Population
Rank
Country
Number of people it takes to earn a medal
1
Bahamas
150,000
2
Jamaica
270,000
3
Iceland
300,000
5
Australia
430,000
6
New Zealand
440,000
7
Cuba
460,000
8
Armenia
500,000
10
Norway
560,000
11
Lithuania
600,000
12
Estonia
650,000
12
Trinidad and Tobago
650,000
20
Hungary
1 million
20
Netherlands
1 million
20
Switzerland
1 million
28
Britain
1.3 million
30
France
1.5 million
35
Canada
1.8 million
37
Russia
1.9 million
38
Germany
2 million
39
Italy
2.1 million
45
USA
2.8 million
57
Japan
5.1 million
66
Brazil
12.8 million
67
China
13.3 million
72
Afghanistan
24 million
78
Mexico
36 million
79
Iran
37 million
83
Indonesia
50.4 million
84
Egypt
80 million
86
India
400 million
87-204
118 other countries with zero medals
million


Conclusions:
As you can see, the Bahamas were the strongest Olympic competitor, measured  this way. It only took  150,000 Bahamians to earn an Olympic medal. On the other hand, it took  400 million Indians to earn one. Put it this way: it took  3000 more  Indians than Bahamians to earn an Olympic medal.  118 countries did even worse than India - they got no medals at all.

Patterns:
1. There is a  negative correlation  between a country’s size and its Olympic success: Many of the most succesful countries are small. For example, the two largest and most powerful countries - the US and China - are ranked   #45 and #67.

2. The  most successful regions are the Caribbean, Australia-New Zealand, Scandinavia and  the small,  formerly communist  countries of  Eastern Europe (E.g. the Baltic States).  In the middle of the pack are the large countries of Western Europe and North America.  The worst performances are by large Latin  American countries, the Middle East, South Asia  and Africa.

Why?
1. Resources: The  more money a country spends  on training athletes, - by the government  or privately -  the more medals. Some countries are just too poor (Africa), other ones  choose not to devote large resources to sports. So this factor is a combination of a country’s relative wealth and whether or not its policy is  to use sports for nationalism.

2. Related to this  is cheating: The more cheating, the more medals: the former Soviet world was best at cheating, sometimes even using hidden males in some women’s events.  Today, most of the cheating is in the form of doping (use of  illegal performance-enhancing drugs)  and it knows no boundaries.

3. Culture, tradition: Eastern Europe still does pretty well. This is a   legacy of the Soviet era, when sports were used for  nationalism. 

4. One thing which a country’s Olympic success does NOT reflect is its moral fiber, as the communists and fascists claimed.  The London Games of 2012 will produce a fairly similar ranking. Countries that garner the most medals absolutely  (China, the US) and those that earn the most of them relative to their size (Caribbean Islands, Baltic States, etc.) will wave their flags with great pride.

Others will say that all rankings are odious, as is all  chauvinism. True. But it was the genius of the Ancient Greeks to try to substitute this healthy form of competition for war.  So I say, let the games begin. Citius, altius, fortius! leave comment here