The Olympics are over, and the U.S. sports pages were full of the news that the U.S. athletes won more medals than any other nation. Quite an accomplishment, huh?
Well, not really. The U.S. is an awfully big country—the third biggest in the world, with about 293 million residents at last count. So with 103 medals, that makes about 1 medal for every 2.8 million people. Adjusting for population, Canada did slightly better than the U.S.: 1 medal for every 2.7 million people.
Both nations were in the middle of the pack. Of the nations that participated in the Olympics, 75 won medals. Person for person, the U.S. haul ranked 40th, Canada’s 38th.
The real winner of the Olympic games was…wait for it…the Bahamas. The island nation pulled in just 2 medals—a gold and a bronze—but has a population of less than 300,000. That gives the country a medal for every 150,000 residents, making the Bahamas about 19 times as athletic, person for person, as the U.S. and Canada.
Australia won the silver in the medals-per-capita Olympics, and Cuba just edged out Estonia for the bronze. China, which pulled in the third largest medal haul, was close to the bottom in medals per capita; though India, with just one silver medal for its 1.1 billion residents, was the real cellar-dweller.
None of this should take anything away from U.S. or Canadian athletes. I just thought it was an interesting example of a widely reported statistic in the mainstream media that, on closer examination, is almost meaningless. So the next time you read about the Dow Jones or the Consumer Confidence Index in the business pages, just think “Olympic medal count.”