US Lagging in Medal Count

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UPDATE:  There’s apparently a whole web page devoted to this: MedalsPerCapita.com (It also seems the Germans aren’t doing as well per capita as I thought there were. Until just now, I thought Germany had about 40 million people, which is totally wrong.)

Original Post:  

As much as I want to hate it, I get sucked in by the Olympics every time, and being from a land of mountains and tundra, I especially like the winter Olympics.

At the same time, I hate the whole concept of nation-state teams at the Olympics. During the Beijing Olympics, I wrote:

Unfortunately for the athletes, these days the Olympics are almost hard-wired to be political events with so much emphasis on “national” teams of athletes, and the playing of national anthems, and medal counts. Yet, the Olympics were not always this way, and they need not be this way forever.

In the early days of the Olympics, athletes from different countries sometimes competed on teams together, there was no playing of national anthems, and the games were seen as what they rightly are: athletic competitions.

What should interest us during the Olympic games is, well, the games. It is both irrelevant and boring to engage in endless discussion about national teams and who’s winning the most medals and what this supposedly means for the global political order.

So, yes, I’m not supposed to look at the medal count, but knowing the US pundits have been badmouthing the Russians for the past month, I kind of enjoyed the fact that the US and Russia are basically tied in the medal count. What’s more, the US has about 2.5 times as many people as Russia, so presumably, we have much greater human resources to call upon. All things being equal, a country with a larger population should do better in the Olympics because its talent pool is much larger. This is partly why the Soviet Union tended to do so much better than Russia in the medal count, because in years past, those people winning medals for Ukraine and Belarus, for example, would have won them for the Russian team. Money, of course, is the other big factor. A rich, large country should hold all the cards in a competition like the Olympics. Especially the winter Olympics which involve more costly sports.

All that being said, on a per capital basis for medals, the US is doing miserably. Norway is leading the medal count, and Norway has 5.1 million people. The US, with 300 million people, is tied for second (with the Netherlands, 16 million people). For the record, China, with a billion people has won a measly 3 medals. Canada with its paltry 35 million people is doing quite well, as is Germany.

So, if we mix the nation-state rah-rah stuff about medals with a per capita analysis, we find that Norway is far and away the greatest country in the world. Just saying.

11:39 am on February 14, 2014
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