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I’ve Got The United States Ranked 30th In Olympics Medal Count

Typically, we see medal counts ranking countries by raw medal numbers. Something like this, where the total score is derived by having the Gold worth 3, Silver worth 2, and Bronze worth 1. (This isn’t a complete count — I got sick of cleaning tabular data.)

Country Gold Silver Bronze "Total"
1 United States 20 17 12 106
2 China 20 13 10 96
3 Russia 7 13 14 61
4 Germany 10 9 11 59
5 Australia 11 7 11 58
6 Japan 12 5 5 51
7 France 6 8 7 41
8 Korea 5 10 5 40
9 Italy 6 6 6 36
9 Great Britain 5 7 7 36
11 Netherlands 3 6 7 28
12 Ukraine 6 2 5 27
13 Romania 5 0 2 17
13 Belarus 2 3 5 17
15 Greece 3 1 3 14
16 Hungary 2 3 1 13
16 Poland 2 2 3 13
18 Slovakia 2 2 1 11
18 Spain 0 5 1 11
20 Turkey 3 0 1 10
21 Cuba 0 2 5 9
22 Georgia 2 1 0 8
22 Thailand 2 0 2 8
24 Indonesia 1 1 2 7
24 South Africa 1 1 2 7
24 Bulgaria 1 0 4 7
24 Denmark 1 0 4 7
24 Austria 0 3 1 7
24 DPR Korea 0 3 1 7
30 Zimbabwe 1 1 1 6
30 Croatia 0 2 2 6
30 Czech Republic 0 2 2 6
33 Ethiopia 1 1 0 5
33 Belgium 1 0 2 5
33 Canada 0 2 1 5
36 Chile 1 0 1 4
36 Sweden 1 0 1 4
36 Switzerland 1 0 1 4
39 New Zealand 1 0 0 3
39 Norway 1 0 0 3
39 United Arab Emirates 1 0 0 3

But, this approach doesn’t take into account what I consider an obvious advantage of the leading countries — population size. Of course the United States has a lot of medals — it has a lot of people from which to draw a select group of athletes. If you factor a country’s population size into their total, you get a very different ranking. “Score” is the “Total” divided by the population, multiplied by 10,000,000 (to get a nice, readable number).

Country Gold Silver Bronze "Total" Population Score
1 Australia 11 7 11 58 19,731,984 29.39
2 Slovakia 2 2 1 11 5,430,033 20.26
3 Netherlands 3 6 7 28 16,150,511 17.34
4 Belarus 2 3 5 17 10,322,151 16.47
5 Georgia 2 1 0 8 4,934,413 16.21
6 Croatia 0 2 2 6 4,422,248 13.57
7 Greece 3 1 3 14 10,665,989 13.13
8 Denmark 1 0 4 7 5,384,384 13.00
9 Hungary 2 3 1 13 10,045,407 12.94
10 U Arab Emirates 1 0 0 3 2,484,818 12.07
11 Bulgaria 1 0 4 7 7,537,929 9.29
12 Austria 0 3 1 7 8,188,207 8.55
13 Korea 5 10 5 40 48,289,037 8.28
14 Cuba 0 2 5 9 11,263,429 7.99
15 Romania 5 0 2 17 22,271,839 7.63
16 New Zealand 1 0 0 3 3,951,307 7.59
17 Germany 10 9 11 59 82,398,326 7.16
18 France 6 8 7 41 60,180,529 6.81
19 Norway 1 0 0 3 4,546,123 6.60
20 Italy 6 6 6 36 57,998,353 6.21
21 Great Britain 5 7 7 36 60,094,648 5.99
22 Czech Republic 0 2 2 6 10,249,216 5.85
23 Ukraine 6 2 5 27 48,055,439 5.62
24 Switzerland 1 0 1 4 7,318,638 5.47
25 Belgium 1 0 2 5 10,289,088 4.86
26 Zimbabwe 1 1 1 6 12,576,742 4.77
27 Sweden 1 0 1 4 8,878,085 4.51
28 Russia 7 13 14 61 144,526,278 4.22
29 Japan 12 5 5 51 127,214,499 4.01
30 United States 20 17 12 106 290,342,554 3.65
31 Poland 2 2 3 13 38,622,660 3.37
32 DPR Korea 0 3 1 7 22,466,481 3.12
33 Spain 0 5 1 11 40,217,413 2.74
34 Chile 1 0 1 4 15,665,216 2.55
35 South Africa 1 1 2 7 42,768,678 1.64
36 Canada 0 2 1 5 32,207,113 1.55
37 Turkey 3 0 1 10 68,109,469 1.47
38 Thailand 2 0 2 8 64,265,276 1.24
39 Ethiopia 1 1 0 5 66,557,553 0.75
40 China 20 13 10 96 1,286,975,468 0.75
41 Indonesia 1 1 2 7 234,893,453 0.30

Congratulations, Australia, Slovakia, and the Netherlands, for being the leading countries (so far)!

64 Comments

  1. Congratulations, Australia, Slovakia, and the Netherlands, for being the leading countries (so far)!
    Thank you! That does make me proud. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Justice at last.

  2. Population should definitely be taken into consideration but I question whether the it should count as much as you suggest. The US has a lot higher population than many countries, but not every citizen of the US is out there competing at once. A basketball team can have great depth, but they can still only put 5 guys on the floor at a time. I’d like to see numbers comparing the medal count to actual number of representatives from each country, and then maybe you could average those with your numbers.

  3. But a higher number of people gives an increasing chance of having athletes that can compete in the olympics. And aan higher change of bringing forth gold medal winners.

    With that said, I loves me country and all of a sudden my favorite metal is Bronze.

  4. You could take this even further if you wanted – for instance, rich countries spend far more on their athletes while poor countries obviously prioritise other things. Stands to reason a country like Australia, which has poured resources into elite sport in recent years, does well.

    Thanks for showing us an alternative version of truths taken for granted.

  5. the weirdest thing is that even given different human ‘body types,’ the people from some of the winningest nations look like many of the US athletes– ie very nutritionally well-off. Those were some healthy female platform divers from Australia too

    Other ppl from some countries just don’t look as substantial or something, sometimes…

  6. And then again, any manipulation of raw data is an exercise of statistical sophistry.

    Shall we now declare Saddam Hussein the victor over George Bush in our latest military contest because Iraq is a smaller nation than the U.S.?

  7. Peter, this post would suck a little less if there were a hint that it’s even partly tongue-in-cheek. Since there isn’t, isn’t it a bit of an oversimplification – something you often accuse others with – to consider just one factor when you’re attempting to even out biases in favour of winning nations. Is it even possible to arrive at an unbiased tally?

    If you’re “factoring out” what would seem to be obvious advantages for winning nations, won’t you want to “factor in” obvious disadvantages for other nations – poverty, illiteracy, lack of facilities, lack of qualified coaches and so on. What about other in-between and potentially difficult to measure sociological factors like parental consent for a sporting career, popularity of a sport among the masses and how a society treats its successful sportsmen of past years. Even if you arrive at a list of factors, what value would you assign to each?

    If size were such an advantage for success, India, Indonesia and Brazil would rank among top five medal winners; the fortune 500 list would be a list of the largest organisations and Adaptive Path would be one the most innovative UX firm!

    Alas, it’s not so simple. India [48], Indonesia [26] and Brazil [33] are not even in the top 25; large, monolith corporations have been known to disappear without a trace; and there are potentially many smart UX designers around the world who work in a team of one.

  8. And that’s not even mentioning it should be adjusted for % of population that is even by any stretch of the imagination available to compete–

    China has a large absolute population, true; but it also has an unbelievably staggering % of its population under age 20… Other countries have skews toward the senior part of the population…
    C’mon Peterme!

  9. There’s no perfect statistic ๐Ÿ™‚

    a final comment is that countries that have strong social disapproval, or even past prohibition, of women participating in the Olympics or in certain sports offer a skew too

    there’re lots of things

  10. Well, if you managed to get all the factors in there and do all the calculating just right, wouldn’t every country end up with the same score as each other? That’s what the competition is all about- overcoming your particular disadvantages to come out on top. It’s like the Vonnegut story Harrison Bergeron. Peterme is en route to becoming the Handicapper General!

  11. The first chart answers a simple question (which country won the most medals?), but implies a not-so-nice question (which country has superior people?). I don’t think you can solve the not-so-nice question by trying to answer it more accurately. But, it’s a fun exercise and worth it for the thoughts it provokes.

  12. I thought I had already written my last word on this but Tim’s comment has been thought provoking.

    He said: “…if you managed to get all the factors in there and do all the calculating just right, wouldn’t every country end up with the same score as each other?”

    Tim, you think too far! I think that’s a brilliant insight. I completely agree. It’s vain to attempt to arrive at an equitable list. For one, as I said, it’s not possible but more importantly – as you showed – we already know the result.

    “Harrison Bergeron” is a poignant story that aptly demonstrates this. It’s fascinating to see this question taken from the realms of statistics and be thrown unexpectedly into the shores of philosophy.

    Competition is vital. China faced some of the same odds about two decades ago that India faces today [lack of resources, small per capita GDP] and it has overcome them brilliantly. Just as Australia has successfully overcome a different set of odds [small population].

    Peter’s second list puts China at #40 and therefore is just as inequitable. Both countries need to be lauded for their achievement. The original list does it quite sufficiently.

  13. Classic. I did the exact same thing just yesterday with the top 20 countries, using gold and total medal counts…. only I made a graph as well.

    Go Australia!

  14. OK but New Zealand now has 2 golds, as of a couple of days ago. So our total would be 15.18, propelling us to 6th place (still well behind those darn aussies…grumble grumble).

  15. the important thing to remember is: swimming doesn’t count

  16. what about Slovenia?
    Until now we have three bronze and one silver medal,
    with population less than two million!!!???

  17. Merlene Ottley (formerly of Jamaica) is now running for Slovenia..

    Athletes are a fluid population.

    Everyone at the Olympics does great– I am as awed and glad to see someone from Romania, or South Africa, or Slovenia, or ANYWHERE do great there– it’s unbelievable to watch. Once athletes started becoming more mobile– especially to countries who would let them compete (Merlene Ottey did not make Jamaica’s team for a 7th Olympics; I believe they felt she did not have a chance at a medal)— it underscored how everyone is kind of the same, fundementally….

    The Olympics is also about adrenaline and close margins as much as anything. No one country or population should take credit, or not, for any individual’s ‘performance’– it is kind of a venue of extremes….albeit often beautiful ones.

  18. Okay, now run that again, factoring in Texas by itself. =P

  19. i’ll have a look…

    I still think the Indonesia population # is off just by practical considerations because Muslim women there, I mean no way are they really a population to whom sports are made available

    Look at Saudi Arabia– it has a ban on physical education for women…I’ll look for that in PWC’s table

  20. Isn’t it about time to put all this negative jingoism to rest. There is no question but that the U.S. of A. has the best troop of athletes in the world. So what?

    This is a nation of couch potatoes. The minority of our population that is seriously engaged in participatory sport is minimal. And that is a shame. But most of our young athletes are in college playing football, baseball and basketball. They are not trap shooting, wrestling, etc. Nevertheless, those that do compete in international games achieve success in an inordinate degree. The Tour de France is a stunning example.

    Nor does the American Government support international sports programs and and athlete development as do most other nations. Private corporation and citizen contributions are the only support of our Olympic and World competiton athletes and programs.

    So, either factor all of these elements into your rankings, or recognize that they are specious and meaningless.

  21. There is a tremendous collegiate and financial (pro marketing) system in the US unparallelled anywhere… though it affects different sports, and athletes, differently.

    But in a way– for me– the question ‘why?’ for many things proves fruitless…

    Njoy the Olympic show anyway!

  22. If Michael Phelps, himself, was an independent country, how much points would he have?

  23. Very interesting insight and I like that link that Donna Maurer as supplied giving the latest update.

    To me all is this is showing is a ‘per capita’ view, which is simply population vs medals. Taking other factors into account would be very difficult such as # women involved in sport etc and you would never get a concensus. Population is a measurable factor but it would be also interesting to see a participant #’s vs medals.

    I come from NZ & I know we will never get anywhere near the total USA will, but even though NZ is currently ranked 3rd I think we have been good but not outstanding as sports which we should have done well were very poor, so we should have more. Therefore a per capita 3rd doesnt seem right.

  24. Sport/athletics is an individual affair woven through all this; however the constant could be seen as massive incentives and support (financial, based on cultural ability to provide as well as inclination to) and also disincentives (outright ban on women in some sports, from some countries; etc etc- )–that color this too

    It is like each country’s privileging of sport, and in what way, and what each country can provide (facilities; climate) woven behind and through each athlete’s quest

    I watch it for individuals, not countries, and marvel at probable victories as much as improbable

    The incredible thing is technology of both sport and timers that allows us to see the microseconds that seemingly ‘divide’ people….. But all the performances there are great– Bar none.

  25. maybe factoring out the abilities of different athletes would contribute to a more egalitarian view. African are simply better runners than the rest…which simply ain’t fair. Why should the fact that the Aussies are so good at swimming entitle them to all the medals…..

    those are the questions I’d like to see answered…

  26. It’s rather petty that you even went to the trouble of calculating this. The U.S. has great athletes. Just get over it!! and yes it has a large population, so you would expect it to be at the top of the medal table. And besides, Australia is always phenomenal at the Olympics, so I’m not sure why you have to be so snide. I could understand if you were British.
    But since it irks you so much to see the U.S. in the top spot that you should go to such trouble to calculate a way to put them in a low position, why don’t you consider another important variable. Team Sports. The US soccer team won a gold medal….that counts as ONE gold medal for about 18 athletes. Same with US womens Basketball and Softball…Just one gold medal for at least a dozen players on each team. Do you see where I’m going?? The US has many large teams participating in different sports at the Olympics, far more than most other countries. I have a feeling if you factored that into your calculations, you’d be dissapointed to see a chart that showed the US in a favorable light again. Sorry. I know that would break your heart.

  27. I see where you are going Julie…Australia won the mens hockey team gold medal, Australian women won silver at softball, and basketball. Australian men won the baseball silver medal, Australian cyclers and rowers won gold team medals too, etc., etc. I don’t think that the US has anymore teams represented at Athens than Australia at all, and Australia’s teams have won quite a few medals at Athens!

    Of course the finances and cultures of countries could be taken into account to get a true guide, but that would still have Australia well ahead of the USA, and it would also be too hard to do, although that would have Cuba very strong. I think that for fun the medals/points per capita is a reasonable guide.

    Australia has shown for a long time that they are the best sport nation in the world. The only nation to have beaten all others more in test cricket, a record 3 world cups too, 29 Davis Cups in tennis, and many grand slam titles for such a small population.

    A record 2 world cups in rugby union, and a record 8 world cups in rugby league, and Australian football is also the most skillful and physically demanding code of football in the world. How good would Australia be at the Olympic Games if they could use professional cricketers, rugby players, and Australian footballers?

    At least the USA can bring their overpaid basketballers, while the American footballers are too overweight and unfit to be any good at the Olympic Games. I don’t think that this is a way to drop the USA down the list, but it is important that people remember that the more people in the country, then the better chance that a top athlete can be produced.

    Of course size alone will not produce success, and the countries themselves must be firstly interested enough in being successful, whether they have the finances or not. I don’t think that India and Indonesia for example care as much about being successful as Australia and the USA do for various reasons.

    One thing is certain however…Australia is a better sport nation than the USA, Italy, France, China, Germany, Italy, Great Britain, Canada, Japan and a few others that have both a higher population and money to spend. My final medal per capita table has the Bahamas first with 2 medals for 317,000 people, but Australia is next, and first of all nations with a population of 1 million people or more!

  28. A better judge may in fact be the total time/number of points ahead one country was from another and not the medal tally.

    Why focus on medals when a more accuate gauge of how much better on country is than another exists in cumulative milliseconds?

    Or better milliseconds per capita.

  29. What about normalising the medal count according to the number of athletes (excluding support staff) that each country sent to Athens, i.e. the number that qualified. Australia sent a disproportionately large team (second largest?). What would this measure?

  30. Let’s not forget all the athletes who attend college,work, train and eventually draw a professional salary here in the US, then return once every four years to their “home” country.

    rick

  31. Another way to look at the relative medal count is a consideration of the number of athletes each nation sent to Athens for this Olympics.

    AUS sent 5% of the total athletes in the Olympic Village and earned 5% of the medals.

    GB entered 2.5 of the athletes and won 3% of the medals.

    FR entered 3% of the athletes and won 3.5% of the medals.

    GER entered 4% of the athletes and won 5% of the medals.

    CHI entered 4% of the athletes and won 7% of the medals.

    And the US entered 6% of the athletes and won 11% of the total medal count.

    RUS is not included in this list as I couldn’t find their number of athletes on the rosters.

    By this measurement, Australia is decidely not “the best sport nation in the world” as the AUS team performed at only an average level in these Olympics, with all the others performing above them.

    The Olympics were never designed to demonstrate the athletic abilities of national populations, but only of their champions. And some nations have more champions in more sports than other nations.

    And some nations rise and fall in their number of champions, but not the USA. Since the 1896 Olympics, the U.S. has come in First 16 times, Second 7 times and Third 1 time. A United States team has never come in below Third in this modern era.

  32. I came to this site from a search looking for “per capita” madals – but reading through the post have been inspired to look at the subject more broadly.

    Australia has done exeedingly well – by any standards….

    I suspect that all the above factors of freedom of women, finances etc are entirely valid. I also think that the “newness” of the nation, along with the geography, plays a part – with the huge majority of the population within spitting distance of major cities. Training facilities, local competition and local funding are all to hand – plus a propensity to live close to the sea…!

    As was said earlier – too many variables – but an interesting debate, nonetheless.

  33. BJME-
    excellent post! So good I have to repost the main thrust for our surly friend….
    “AUS sent 5% of the total athletes in the Olympic Village and earned 5% of the medals.

    And the US entered 6% of the athletes and won 11% of the total medal count. ”

    Sorry, 5% from 5% is not too impressive. And, by the way, I believe I read that Australia sent over 500 athletes!?? Is that true??? Then you should have gotten as many medals as China, who (I believe) also sent about 500. So what went wrong with the Australian team then?

  34. Please complete your table! I have wanted someone to do this because (as I had hoped and even presumed) my home country of Australia would be on top! (I currently live in the USA). BUT … New Zealand ended up with 3 golds and, I think 2 silvers! My Kiwi wife wnd I would love to see how that would alter things!

  35. Interesting stuff.

    I would suspect there’s an “S” curve involved , too. To start off, population has little effect, then it climbs rapidly, and finally flattens out as saturation is reached.

    Another factor is the degree of specialisation that occurs in any field; athletics, science, etc. Large countries can afford to have people specialise. As the country gets smaller, they tend to have to become “Jacks of all trades”, then at very small levels, it’s not possible to cover all the bases, so individuals start to specialise again.

  36. G’day readers….

    Aussies-V-Yanks, no contest. Not only are we a better sporting nation but we have better beaches, better weather, better food, friendlier people, are less aggressive and more humble than those from the U.S of A.

    America conducts the “World Series” of baseball in which only US teams compete and then can’t even win the mens baseball at the Games!! We all laughed at THAT!

    It is a pity that “Gun related death” is not an Olympic Sport. You guys would definitely win Gold and Silver and Bronze too!

    Also amusing that your average white American has an avid dislike of African Americans yet those people win 90% of your medals! Talk about hypocrisy.

    Yanks have always been jealous of Aussies. Get over it.

  37. Interesting, but I should think that any computation of this sort would consider only the sports wherein each nations competes. Swimming is an obviously embarrassment to the Olympic movement, insasmuch as a single swimmer can win multiple medals – seven for Mark Spitz – while athletes far better biomechanically – wrestlers, judoists, and decathlon competitors – can win just one.

    Mathematics and statistics are my avocation and former profession (I’m retired), and my own compilation puts Cuba in first place by a considerable margin.

    Still, I congratulate you for your attempt at precision and objectivity.

  38. Forget the population thing… rich countries do better at the Olympics, therefore it makes more sense to allow for a nations GDP when comparing their Olympic performance.

  39. Julie… you need to get a life. Talk about taking the fun out of something and injecting aggression. Aussies are generally way too laid back and appreciative of their own good fortune to begrudge a winner anything – US or otherwise. Sheesh!

    Personally, I think it’s exposure to competition that makes the difference. I’m not sure how you’d calculate anything on that basis, but athletes who have the greater exposure to other top-level athletes definitely thrive on that experience. This measure would put those smaller, less well-off nations WAY above the others as well…

  40. “Aussies-V-Yanks, no contest. Not only are we a better sporting nation but we have better beaches, better weather, better food, friendlier people, are less aggressive and more humble than those from the U.S of A.”

    hehehe….yes, obviously very humble! And I think it’s just plain stupid to say things like “Aussie V Yanks”. Your just being inflammatory. I’m not biting and for the record I’ve always admired the success of Australia at the Olympics (well, summer anyway). I’m not the one who devised a chart to show the leading nation in 30th place, which is especially skewed considering the restrictions on the number of athletes nations are allowed – something which has an obvious effect on larger nations like the US and China – rendering “per capita” calculations completely meaningless. But if it makes you feel good….

    “America conducts the “World Series” of baseball in which only US teams compete and then can’t even win the mens baseball at the Games!! We all laughed at THAT”

    glad you had a good laugh, as much the whole world does over that one. of course, everyone is too lazy to look up that the term “World Series” refers to the “World” newspaper that sponsored it in the beginning. whatever.
    Also, I believe the US not qualifying had something to do with it being in the middle of baseball season here, so most of our players are kind of tied up. If the amateurs didn’t qualify because they weren’t good enough, well then they just weren’t good enough. Obviously, our basketball team wasn’t so hot either. We can live with that. It happens.

    Also, your assertion that most Americans are racist is a ridiculous, cheap, ignorant shot and only reveals your own uneducated bigotry. (btw, did you see Rabbit Proof Fence? People in glass houses, you know…) I’m very proud of the African-American athletes who represent our country at the Olympics. They do extraordinarily well. although the 90% figure was clearly pulled right out of your ass.

  41. “Talk about taking the fun out of something and injecting aggression. Aussies are generally way too laid back and appreciative of their own good fortune to begrudge a winner anything – US or otherwise. Sheesh”

    Please. the whole point of this topic was to begrudge and put down the American olympic team while stroking your own egos. And based on the comments of some of your compatriots on this board, I have to laugh when you talk about how laid back Aussies are. I’m not the one injecting aggression here.

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