Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Who Really Won the Olympics?


The London Olympics are over and as expected, America came out on top. For me, it was not a particularly enjoyable fortnight as the time difference meant that I missed most of the great performances. Back home in Canada though, there has been much national angst as Canadian athletes brought home a solitary gold among 18 overall medals. Personally, I thought that was a reasonable achievement; we are not blessed with America's population so to garner 18 medals is fine, even if 12 were bronze. As James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail said, there's no shame in celebrating bronze, as long as it is not in hockey.

One of the problems with the Olympics is the unbalanced playing field. It is not really fair to compare countries against one another based purely on medals. There are so many other factors that can be used to get a better idea of which nation performed beyond their expectations.

As an example, let's compare medal totals for Canada (1-5-12) and Brazil (3-5-9). Sure, Canada gained one more medal overall, but Brazil had the better record. Even then, gold medals alone are not a proper measurement either; North Korea's 4-0-2 puts them ahead of Spain at 3-10-4 in the official rankings. And medals don't even take into account populations or economics. Most notably, Grenada's single gold coming from a population of just over 100,000 is amazing. So rather than accept the prevailing standard, I decided to combine all of these elements to get a more interesting look at the medal standings.

First, I awarded points on a 5-2-1 basis for gold, silver, and bronze. These are purely arbitrary numbers based on a gold being worth more than 2 silvers, while a silver is equivalent to two bronzes. Again, just an arbitrary choice which actually didn't affect the rankings much. As an example, Japan (7-14-17-38-80) and France (11-11-12-34-89) switched places with Japan falling from 6th to 8th and France jumping up 2 spots by virtue of their extra 4 golds (those numbers are G-S-B-Total-Points). Canada suffered one of the biggest drops, falling from 13th to 22nd, just ahead of Belarus who had one of their gold medals taken away after the winner was caught doping.

The next step was to divide this point total by the population, which I took from the always reliable Wikipedia. Multiplying this number by 1,000,000 results in a stat that I have creatively dubbed Medal Points/Million People or MPMP. To illustrate, the US had 317 points using the 5-2-1 system and with a population of about 314 million, gets 1.01 MPMP, in other words about one medal point for every million people. This puts them 40th on the list with the aforementioned Grenada taking 1st at 47.62. Canada falls down to 47th at 0.77. The top 10 by this stat (MP are medal points):

Nation          MP     Pop      MPMP
Grenada          5    105,000   47.62
Bahamas          5    353,658   14.14
Jamaica         32  2,705,827   11.83
New Zealand     39  4,434,590    8.79
Trinidad & Tob   8  1,317,714    6.07
Hungary         53  9,962,000    5.32
Croatia         19  4,290,612    4.43
Lithuania       14  3,187,700    4.39
Slovenia         9  2,057,970    4.37
Denmark         21  5,584,758    3.76

The problem here is that less populous nations have a massive advantage as you can see above, where not a single country has a population above 10 million. So I also incorporated each nation's economy using GDP per capita, which is a reasonably accurate measure of a country's wealth. Dividing GDP per capita (in $US) by Medal Points gives a number (GDP/MP) that represents how much each Medal Point cost each resident of that country. It is obviously just a theoretical calculation, since each nation doesn't spend all of its wealth on sport, but it gives a rough idea of how much each medal "costs". Naturally, poor countries with a few medals are at the top of the ranking. Ethiopia, the poorest nation to take home a medal (GDP is just $360 per person), managed 7 medals for 20 medal points, which means each Ethiopian paid $18 for each medal point. Qatar, the richest country in the world with a GDP 273 times greater than that of Ethiopia, netted only 2 bronze medals, each costing over $49,000. Canada ended up in 54th, with each medal point costing $1,868. The top 10 and bottom 5 are below:

Nation      MP     GDP     GDP/MP
Ethiopia    20     360       18.0
China      267    5414       20.3 
Kenya       23     851       37.0
N. Korea    22    1200       54.6
Russia     204   12993       63.7
Ukraine     49    3621       73.9
Uganda       5     478       95.6
Cuba        37    5397      145.9
USA        317   48387      152.6
Jamaica     32    5402      168.8
...
Bahrain      1   23132    23132.0
Singapore    2   49271    24635.5
Hong Kong    1   34049    34049.0
Kuwait       1   47982    47982.0
Qatar        2   98329    49164.5

So how can these varied measures be combined to give an overall ranking? After much thought and experimentation with complicated mathematical formulae that involved logarithmic analysis (yeah, right) I decided to simply average the 3 rankings: medal points (MPR), medal points per million (MPPMR), and GDP/MP. Here are the top 20 and bottom 5:

Nation         MPR    MPPMR   GDP/MPR   AVG
Great Britain    4      14      13      10.3
Jamaica         20       3      10      11.0
Hungary         11       6      19      12.0
Cuba            17      12       8      12.3
Russia           3      30       5      12.7
USA              1      40       9      16.7
Kazakhstan      14      21      17      17.3
South Korea      7      28      18      17.7
Ukraine         13      39       6      19.3
Belarus         23      19      16      19.3
Germany          5      32      24      20.3
Australia        9      11      41      20.3
France           6      31      27      21.3
New Zealand     15       4      45      21.3
Georgia         38      15      15      22.7
China            2      66       2      23.3
North Korea     25      43       4      24.0
Czech Republic  21      18      35      24.7
Netherlands     12      16      47      25.0
Italy           10      38      28      25.3
...
Greece          75      68      78      73.7
Morocco         79      83      61      74.3
Kuwait          79      61      84      74.7
Hong Kong       79      72      83      78.0
Saudi Arabia    79      82      80      80.3

So Great Britain actually "won" the Olympics! Jamaica and Hungary round out the top 3, while the US falls to 6th due to their large population. Belarus remains in the top 10 despite losing that gold. Canada ended up right in the middle at 43rd out of 85 countries that won a medal, exactly where we like to be. Smarter sports fans could probably figure out a way to include all those nations that went home empty handed, but I think the final result here is pretty intriguing.

Obviously, this is an arbitrary analysis with no scientific merit whatsoever. Please don't take it seriously. You can easily adjust the rankings by playing with the weightings or changing the point system. It is actually rather interesting to do so; if you would like the original data, please let me know and I will forward it to you.

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to Sochi in 2014. At least I'll be in the same time zone!

Update: No I won't be in the same time zone! I have unexpectedly moved to the USA and will be watching tape delays on NBC. Yay!

Best,

Sean

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