Sunday, 23 February 2014

Which country 'won' Sochi?

There's always some debate about how to rank the medal tally of all the countries. Some news outlets  rank by number of gold. The second option is to tally the total bronze, silver, and gold. CBC chose to rank by pure gold, which puts Canada in third and USA fourth, while NBC took the total count, which places USA second and Canada fourth. Hmmm. How about we try a points system, where Gold = 3 points, Silver = 2, and Bronze = 1. This takes a middle ground where runner-up performances still count while admitting gold ought to be worth more than bronze. In this case here's the Sochi 2014 medal table:

Russia is the clear winner with 70 points, while Canada's 55 points edges out Norway and the United States who are tied third with 53. The overall rankings are only tweaked a little, which is good not to upset the apple cart entirely.  One modification I could suggest is to count team sports for more points since it's impossible for a given country to sweep the medals (i.e. Canada's men's hockey team can win at most one gold while the Netherlands can, and have, won multiple medals per event). Then again sweeping the podium is an equal opportunity event hence I'm not going to change the table.

I forgot to mention a third way people rank the olympics, which is dividing that countries' population by the metal count to 'normalize' the rankings. You could do that here too, but with points instead of using the (oversimplified) medal count. Here's the rankings again with a points per capita:

No surprise that Norway is the clear winner with 10.3 points per million people; on average every 100,000, or a tiny city in Norway, generates an Olympic point. Slovenia and Switzerland rank in second and third, which I would not have considered intuitive choices. Meanwhile Canada and Russia slip all the way down to ninth and 14th, respectively (I kept the original rank numeration so you can see how much shifting there is). No surprise that China sits in dead last for winter, but maybe if we tried doing this with London 2012 something interesting could emerge. But that's for another post.


  1. What if you combined this with your last post and divided points by GDP? Might also give an interesting look, not at how much an Olympic medal is worth to the individual athletes, but how efficient a country's Olympic program is. Could also do GDP per capita and combine the two.

    1. Funny enough just after posting this it had crossed my mind to exactly as you suggest: normalize points by both population and GDP.
      There's no way to know until I try, but it sure wouldn't take too long. I think doing this for the summer games would be especially revealing with so many more participants.