Back by popular demand, a population-adjusted look at how nations fared during the recent Olympics. By a straight up count of medals, the United States won, taking home 37 medals, followed by Germany with 30 and Canada with 26. But taking into account population, the games were absolutely dominated by Norway.
Norway did well by any standard, taking home 23 medals, the fourth most of any nation; and it’s boosted in the per capita rankings by the fact that it is home to fewer than 5 million people.
Here’s how many medals were won by each country on a per capita basis:
It’s interesting, I think, but I wouldn’t want to put too much weigh on the per capita rankings.
There are a number of reasons why per capita rankings are unsatisfactory, including the fact that Olympic qualification rules tend to give small countries a helping hand. Plus, in many sports there are restrictions on how many athletes can advance from each country.
Anyway, there’s something inherently a little weird about per capita success. For instance, even if China had won every single medal in every competition, it would still only have turned in an France-level per capita performance. (France ranked 17th by per capita standards; 8th by ordinary standards.) Plus, the events of the winter Olympics are clearly biased toward traditional northern European activities, which likely gives countries like Norway a huge advantage over some other countries.
Three updates, 1:40: I hadn’t seen David Brooks’ NYT column about Norway’s success, with its extensive reference to We Die Alone, a book about one Norwegian’s epic endurance during World War II. (I read the book a couple of years back, and it’s painfully unforgettable.)
I also hadn’t seen Matthew Yglesias’ take, in which he points out that Norway provides rather massive public investments into athletics and sport facilities. As usual, Yglesias is worth reading.
I also forgot to wax astonished at the men’s 50k cross-country skiing race. Petter Northug was simply astonishing, there’s no other word for it — even more so, I think, than his astonishing come back to grab silver for Norway in the 4x10k relay.
Norway also spends tons of money on sport, significantly at the amateur youth level. Soccernomics, by Simon Kuper and another author, examines their investment and involvement in amateur soccer, and I think demonstrates that they are one of the most sporting countries on the planet.
Nice idea! I dont think this is as weird as you write. The China argument may not be intuitive, but it doesn’t invalidate this list, any more than the argument “If China owned every single car in the world it would still be below Cyprus.” (I’m making this up since I don’t have any reliable statistics at hand.)
Good analysis, provided it has always been interesting when seeing the medal summary talbes to think how some medals actually represent a lot more athletes than other medals based on the particular sport. An example is the men’s hockey gold medal. For this measurement, it is just one medal, just like the men’s 500m short-track skating gold medal. But the whole Canadian hockey team actually participated and got a medal to take home. So another way to calculate this table would be ACTUAL MEDALS received by a country per 10 million population. Team sports, 4-man bobsled, curling and others would help some countries quite a bit.