Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Olympic wrapup

So the United States "won" the 2016 Summer Olympics, coming back home from Rio with the most overall medals (121) as well as the most gold medals (46). China, which won 70 medals (26 gold), and Great Britain, which garnered 67 medals (27 gold), competed for second place, but neither country came close to Team USA's totals. This is the sixth summer Olympics in a row that the United States has come away with the most number of total medals; America has also won the greatest number of golf medals in five out of the last six summer Olympiads. Fuck yeah!

Over 64% of Team USA's medals came from just three sports categories: swimming (33 medals), track and field (32 medals), and gymnastics (12), but the United States also dominated in sports such as basketball, winning gold in both the mens and womens tournaments.

(This brings up something that's always bothered me about the Olympics: why are medals for team sports such as basketball and soccer, which play multiple games in tournaments over the course of the Olympics, worth the same as one-off individual events such as the mens 100-meter breaststroke or the womens javelin throw? This is not a knock against the athletes that compete and win in these individual events; it just seems that, given the number of games played and the number of athletes involved, team medals should be counted as a separate category. But that's an argument for another day...)

Although Team USA won the most number of medals, it did not win the highest number of medals per capita. After the 2014 Winter Olympics I calculated these rankings myself, but now there's a handy website that calculates these things for you.

It turns out that Grenada is the most efficient country in terms of medals won per capita; the silver medal won sprinter Kirani James gives the Caribbean island a ratio of 106,825 inhabitants to medals won. The Bahamas comes in second with one medal per 194,009 residents, while Jamaica comes in third with one medal per 247,812 inhabitants. At one medal per 2,656,353 inhabitants, the United States falls somewhere in the middle of the pack. At the bottom of the list is India, with a ratio of one medal for every 655,525,263 residents. (If it makes India feel any better, its rival Pakistan was the largest country to win no medals at all.)

One country manages to finish in the top ten in medals per capita in both the Winter and Summer Olympics: Slovenia won one medal per 257,192 residents in the 2014 Winter Games, which was good for second place, and one medal per 515,942 in the 2016 Summer Games, which placed the (amazingly beautiful) Alpine country seventh.

Azerbaijan had the most efficient team in terms of medals won per competing athlete: their 56-person team won 18 total medals, for a ratio of 0.32 medals per athlete. Ethiopia came in second at 0.24 medals per athlete, while the United States came in third at 0.22 medals per athlete. The least efficient team in terms of medals won was Portugal, which only managed one medal among its team of 94 athletes. That's still better than Chile, which was the largest team (42 athletes) to win no medals at all.

If weights are assigned to medals - i.e. a gold is worth more than a silver, which is in turn worth more than a bronze - Tajikistan comes out on top in terms of medals per team, and the USA is second. Efficiency... Fuck yeah!

It stands to reason that richer countries perform better in the Olympics than poorer countries because they have more resources to devote to athlete training and sports development, and the final medal tally from Rio largely bears that out: highly-developed nations such as the USA, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, France, Italy and Australia are all in the top ten. That makes the accomplishments of countries with smaller, less-developed economies, such as Grenada, Jamaica, Kenya, Fiji and Burundi, all the more remarkable. The United States actually falls closer to the bottom in terms of medals per GDP, but that's simply because our GDP is, by far, the world's largest. Once again: Fuck yeah!

It also makes me wonder why OECD countries such as Portugal, Finland and Austria performed so poorly in Rio. Austria is a Winter Olympics powerhouse, so you'd think some of that athleticism and infrastructure would rub off onto the summer sports. Yet the landlocked nation won only a single bronze medal - in sailing!

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