27. August 2004 · Categories: Analysis, Social/Culture · Tags:


/ perspective on the ratio of olympic medals to citizens represented. /

We all know that the USA will walk away from Athens with more metal than any other nation. We usually do. A look back at the history of modern Olympic games tells us the story of a nation that stands on top with a total count of 860 gold, 651 silver and 575 bronze medals. Out of the 25 Olympiads from 1896 to 2000, the USA has come in first in the medal standings 14 times. The only other nations that have ever swept the lion share of medals is France, Great Britain and Germany each having done it once and the Soviet Union having done it 6 times, then a seventh time as the Unified Team of former Soviet Republics.

Still, this has never really been a true reflection of the athleticism of any particular nation. The nations with the most medals tend to have enormous populations which is a sheer influence on medal standings. A nation with a large population will stand more chance of producing an Olympic champion than a nation with a small population. If a nation such as Sweden, which in 2000 had a population of 8.9 million people, can take away 4 gold, 5 silver and 3 bronze as they did that year in Sydney, it means that there are more Olympic champions per citizen in that country than there is in a country like China which took home 28 gold, 16 silver and 15 bronze medals that same year but had a population at the time of 1.2 billion. So for Sweden there is one medal per 743,631 people, for China there is one medal per 15,153,450 people. To me that says something. It says something about the natural or cultural inclinations of a nation’s people. Canada has a medal for every 2,234,150 people and the USA has a medal for every 2,910,708.

Of course there can be lots of ways to measure the Olympic spirit in a nations daily culture, but this perspective seemed an easy one to explore given the availability of required data. The medal counts coming from the official Olympic site www.Olympics.org and the population estimates from the US Census Bureau. So for fun I decided to tally things up and give the nations with a truly athletic culture at least some of the credit they deserve for what they brought to Sydney in 2000. This ranking is based on a ratio between population and medal count where gold medals count for 3, silver counts for 2 and bronze counts for 1. The ratios compare athletic performance to number of people per country.

Top 15

1. Bahamas

2. Australia (of course being a host nation makes a difference, but still….)

3. Cuba

4. Norway

5. Jamaica

6. Hungary

7. Bulgaria

8. Barbados

9. The Netherlands

10. Estonia

11. Iceland

12. Slovenia

13. Sweden

14. Trinidad and Tobago

15. Greece

Of course, some of the smaller countries tend to send their athletes or even borrow athletes from larger countries but continuing through the list and finding out where some of these bigger nations rank makes such exceptions seem marginal.

27. France

29. Russia

30. Germany

34. Great Britain

40. Canada

79 countries won medals in Sydney, we find the nations with the most medals toward the bottom of this index. Champion USA actually ranks 41 out of 79.

41. USA

52. Japan

73. China

Interesting to note that India, the second largest nation in the world, was ranked last out of the 79. Their athlete, Karnam Malleswari, won a bronze medal in women’s weightlifting.