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August 31, 2004

Comments

JohnP

Interesting statistics.

But aren't you comparing apples and pairs? You need something to correlate the data sets -- e.g. Wealth or GNP per capita, and then compare this against a medal count?

Although taking this view, Brunei should have romped home with the lion's share of the medals. And they only had one athlete: Jimmy Anak Ahar, who unfortunately went out in Round 1 of the 1500 metres.

Or Saudi Arabia. Or Equitorial Guinea!

torn and frayed

It seems to me that the two main factors affecting Olympic performance are population size and wealth.

Thus, although Norway has a higher per capita GNP than the USA, you would expect the USA to win many more medals because its population is sixty-five times larger. That is in fact what happened: USA (103), Norway (6).

Table 1 below came about because I wondered whether the Philippines was the largest country in terms of population not to win a medal. As it turned out, two much larger countries, Bangladesh and Pakistan, also failed to win any medals, so the Philippines was only the third largest country not to win a medal.

Since population size is not the only factor explaining Olympic performance, I selected membership of the G8 as a proxy for economic success. I chose this simply because it was an easily accessible figure (and as it turned out it correlated well with Olympic performance, Table 2 below).

I agree that some way of combining these two variables -- population size and wealth -- would be best, but that would be quite a complicated equation. GNP per capita would not be enough; as the example above shows, two countries with broadly similar GNP per capita figures can have very different medal tallies, but so what? To be meaningful, GNP per capita would have to be compared with medals per capita, which would be rather laborious.

However, sticking with the USA and Norway, here goes.

As for GNP per capita, the USA is $29,240 and Norway $34,310.

As for medals per capita, the USA, with a population of 294 million won 103 medals. Its medals per capita figure was 0.00000035 (looked at another way, it took 2.85 million Americans to win one medal). Norway was more efficient; its population is 4.5 million and its medal tally 6 medals, so Norway’s medals per capita figure was 0.00000133 (so only 0.75 million Norwegians were needed to win one medal).

Comparing these two variables, Norway’s GNP per capita is 17% higher than the USA’s, but its medals per capita figure is 380% higher. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Norway is more medal-efficient overall since an economist would probably not accord equal value to the two variables, and that’s where I get stuck.

johnp

You need "past performance" and "host effect" as variables too.

(I must email these folk for some lottery numbers.)

"Two economists, one at Berkeley and one at Dartmouth, used a statistical model to successfully predict the total number of medals given to each country at this year’s Olympic Games in Athens with an overall accuracy rate of 97%, compared to 96% accuracy for the Sydney games in 2000.

Meghan Busse, visiting assistant professor at the Haas School, and co-author Andrew Bernard, professor of international economics at Dartmouth University's Tuck School of Business, have developed a model that draws on population, per capita income, past performance, and a host effect (for the country hosting the Olympics) to determine how many medals a country will win."

http://www.haas.berkeley.edu/groups/newspubs/haasnews/archives/hn083004.html

Wigan

Very interesting statistics! The whole equation with size and prosperity does not really convince me, though. Look at the medal tally of the African states - if it had anything to do with prosperity, they would be similarly marginalized as they are economically and politically. Yet they aren't - one of the most wonderful medals being the Bronze for Eritrea. The Philippines therefore does not have much of a pretext for underperforming - the country may have problems, but it's not THAT poor. It also is a reflection of the part sports plays in a society (with all its positive or negative connotations, see the totalitarian states of the 1970s and 1980s). Moreover, I'm always intrigued that most Filipino "medal hopes" always have, in a way, to do with violence - see boxing, or, in the 60s, shooting.

torn

They should make sabong an Olympic sport.

Yes, I quite agree but was a bit reluctant to say so. Let's face it, Filipinos are not the most energetic or sports-mad people, and I agree that that cannot be completely explained away by the fact that the Philippines is not a rich country. That was one of the points of isolating those variables that CAN be quantified (such as population and GDP per capita). That way you can say, OK these countries are broadly the same size and in the same economic bracket yet one won many more medals -- why? Then you can look at the unquantifiable factors such as "the part sports plays in a society", as you said.

Singapore is another "rich" country that underperformed and having lived there that doesn't surprise me. OK, it is small but countries with similar or smaller populations (such as New Zealand and my old friend Norway) got 5 or 6 medals.

Returning to John's previous comment, altitude might be another input variable (for middle distance running anyway).

And for output variables, we have discussed "medals" but of course there are three different kinds of medals, making Norway's achievement (5 of its 6 medals were golds) even more commendable.

All in all I think it would take four years to come up with a decent model...

xammy

This olympic was a bad one 4 my country(nigeria) but all the contestant were fantastic.

Martin C

Great idea for a table, nice one. We have a table for the 2008 Olympics that lets you scale the medals won by population or GDP - we don't tally countries that haven't won a medal though. http://channel4.com/olympics

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I searched for this theme! Although taking this view, Brunei should have romped home with the lion's share of the medals. And they only had one athlete: Jimmy Anak Ahar, who unfortunately went out in Round 1 of the 1500 metres.

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Camarad

Has read all in detail, excellent blog! GNP per capita would not be enough; as the example above shows, two countries with broadly similar GNP per capita figures can have very different medal tallies, but so what? To be meaningful, GNP per capita would have to be compared with medals per capita, which would be rather laborious.

Leonardo DiCaprio

But aren't you comparing apples and pairs? You need something to correlate the data sets -- e.g. Wealth or GNP per capita, and then compare this against a medal count?

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