Which country really wins the Olympics?

Contents

Gold medals per population and GDP since 1996

RankCountry nameCountryGoldsGolds per personGolds per GDP
USA USA2450.7411.775
China CHN1880.13112.651
Russia RUS1491.021101.77
Great Britain GBR961.41436.387
Germany DEU901.07423.806
Australia AUS722.82453.945
France FRA671.02626.26
Italy ITA600.99232.464
South Korea KOR591.15137.182
Japan JPN520.41110.589
Cuba CUB423.708459.77
Hungary HUN424.348280.114
Netherlands NLD412.39346.258
Ukraine UKR340.777239.016
Romania ROU301.559120.664
Spain ESP270.57721.644
Poland POL250.66143.037
Brazil BRA210.09915.398
New Zealand NZL204.147103.335
Canada CAN180.47711.248
Jamaica JAM186.0791,265.11
Kenya KEN180.335178.133
Greece GRC171.63187.459
Iran IRN170.20227.839
Ethiopia ETH160.139167.385
Norway NOR162.95143.67
Czech Republic CZE151.40161.99
Kazakhstan KAZ150.79990.509
Denmark DNK142.41741.222
Sweden SWE131.28724.572
Switzerland CHE131.50218.365
Turkey TUR130.15420.017
Belarus BLR121.27207.943
Bulgaria BGR111.583161.962
Croatia HRV112.679193.771
North Korea PRK100.388555.556
South Africa ZAF100.16935.387
Slovakia SVK91.64888.329
Thailand THA90.12917.675
Argentina ARG80.17720.901
Georgia GEO82.005490.316
Azerbaijan AZE70.69168.003
Belgium BEL70.60413.905
Uzbekistan UZB70.209117.114
Bahamas BHS512.715432.526
Colombia COL50.09818.873
Indonesia IDN50.0184.592
Lithuania LTU51.83790.803
Slovenia SVN52.40596.521
Taiwan TWN50.217.867
Algeria DZA40.09127.151
Austria AUT40.4449.24
Finland FIN40.72214.933
Ireland IRL40.8110.023
Mexico MEX40.0313.845
Cameroon CMR30.11376.852
Dominican Republic DMA30.27738.519
Latvia LVA31.59190.868
Nigeria NGA30.0156.772
Serbia SRB30.34357.693
Tunisia TUN30.25476.48
Armenia ARM20.675156.091
Bahrain BHR21.17557.763
Chile CHL20.1058.149
Estonia EST21.50865.643
Mongolia MNG20.61149.421
Morocco MAR20.05417.822
Portugal PRT20.1969.021
Trinidad and Tobago TTO21.42988.036
Zimbabwe ZWE20.135142.837
Burundi BDI10.084319.387
Costa Rica CRI10.19616.766
Ecuador ECU10.05710.744
Egypt EGY10.012.763
Fiji FJI11.116254.323
Grenada GRD18.887931.099
Hong Kong HKG10.1332.93
India IND10.0010.386
Israel ISR10.1162.608
Ivory Coast CIV10.03816.26
Jordan JOR10.09823.469
Kosovo KOS10.552133.618
Mozambique MOZ10.03268.695
Panama PAN10.23216.588
Puerto Rico PRI10.3510.642
Singapore SGP10.1712.963
Syria SYR10.05715.385
Tajikistan TJK10.105126.614
Uganda UGA10.02226.502
United Arab Emirates ARE10.1012.826
Venezuela VEN10.03520.572
Vietnam VNM10.012.936
Golds per person = Number of golds ÷ population (millions)


Golds per GDP = Number of golds ÷ GDP (trillions)

Summer Olympic medal tables often look familiar – USA, China, Great Britain, Russia and Australia usually dominate. But that doesn’t show the whole picture. These nations have larger populations and more money to spend than average.

To uncover the real Olympic champion, we worked out which countries have won the most gold medals per person and per national wealth since 1996. Click on golds per person and golds per gross domestic product (GDP) on the table above to get a better picture.

We start at Atlanta ’96 because that was the first summer Olympics without the USSR. The USSR were a huge medal winner so a time span both with and without them gives inconsistent data.

Jamaica are top dogs

The standout nation from our research is Jamaica. They rank number 1 for golds per GDP, with 1,265 golds achieved for each $1 trillion of GDP. For comparison the USA scores 12!

Jamaica’s 6 golds per million people stat is also impressive, with only 2 nations able to beat it. For comparison China scores 0.131.

This is in no small part down to their sprinting ability. Every gold medal won by the Jamaican Olympic team since 1996 has been on the track (100m, 110m hurdles, 200m and 400m). What makes this even more impressive is that Jamaica only really came to the party from 2004. In Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000 they won just 1 gold medal. So hats off to the sprinters, who have pushed their nation to dizzy Olympic heights!

Cuba gets second place

Cuba rank an impressive 6th for golds per person and 5th for golds per GDP. The reason for this is combat sports. 18 of their 42 gold medals since 1996 have come in boxing, with each Olympics providing a minimum of 2 boxing golds. 11 gold medals have come from Judo and Wresting since 1996, meaning 70% of their overall triumphs have been in combat sports.

Boxing is a huge deal in Cuba. Of the 99,000 registered athletes in Cuba currently, 19,000 are boxers, with only 12 making the Olympic team.

North Korean flexing

Despite only having a GDP of $18 billion North Korea managed a monumental 10 golds. That gets them 3rd place in golds per GDP behind only Grenada and Jamaica. While the nation is getting great value for money here, they’re not doing so well per person, ranking 49th.

The North Korean’s perform admirably in weightlifting, winning 5 golds since Atlanta ’96. 3 of their triumphs have come in gymnastics, with the other 2 in wresting and judo. Clearly they are excelling in strength based events and reaping the rewards.

The recipe for their success is unknown. When their weightlifters were quizzed about their training methods back in 2014 they responded in cryptic fashion, with Om Yun Chol saying “I have a question for the journalists here, have you ever heard that an egg can break a stone?”

Former Soviet strength

The USSR was an Olympic force to be reckoned with before its dissolution. However, their legacy remains alive within the former states. Since 1996, these 15 countries have won 245 gold medals combined, being most successful in wresting (46 golds) followed by athletics (32), gymnastics (31) and boxing (25). Russia won 60.8% of those.

Each former soviet state performs well in golds per GDP. In fact, 12 of the 15 countries rank in the top 30. Georgia performs best, ranked 4th for golds per GDP and 13th for golds per person. 11 former Soviet states beat Russia itself in golds per GDP and 5 do so in golds per person.

New Zealand beats Australia

For gold medals per person New Zealand ranks 5th and Australia ranks 8th.

For golds per GDP New Zealand ranks 24th, they highest of any major first world country. Meanwhile, Australia achieve almost half as many golds per GDP ranking 40th.

The sporting prowess of the 2 nations comes on the water. An amazing 69.5% of their combined gold medals since 1996 have come in water sports, with swimming being the most fruitful. Cycling is the next best with 18.5% of the 2 nation’s gold medal haul.

USA and China not so mighty after all

Anyone looking at the raw data for Olympic gold medals would assume China and The USA are performing admirably. However, our data suggests otherwise.

Ranking 72nd (China) and 73rd (USA) in golds per GDP proves the 2 powerhouses aren’t getting the best bang for their buck. The USA then ranks 37th in golds per person while China come a lowly 70th.

Substandard Subcontinent

By far the worst performing region by our metrics is the Indian Subcontinent – made up of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. Between these 5 countries only 1 gold medal was mustered since 1996, won by Abhinav Bindra of India in shooting at Beijing 2008.

Combined, the 5 nations have a population of nearly 1.8 billion people so a haul of 1 gold medal seems pretty pitiful. As developing nations you would assume their athletes are not getting the funding needed, but that is why we measure golds per GDP, at which they do just as poorly.

As the Head of the Indian Olympic Association mentions below, families traditionally favor giving their children a good education over focusing on sport, with the possible exception of cricket. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh all compete on the global cricketing stage, with the former 2 a match for anyone. This suggest these countries could compete if the desire was there.

“Sport has always taken a back seat vis a vis education” ~ Narayana Ramachandran, Head of the Indian Olympic Association

2 comments

  1. Carlos

    South American countries doing pretty bad here

  2. norman

    nice research. usain bolt had a pretty major effect for jamaica 😂

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