Richard Florida is a co-founder and editor at large of CityLab and a senior editor at The Atlantic. He is a university professor in the University of Toronto’s School of Cities and Rotman School of Management, and a distinguished fellow at New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate.
Small countries rise to the top when we control for population, GDP, and size of Olympic delegation.
More than a week into the Rio Games, the USA certainly looks like the big winner. As of Sunday night the American team had 69 medals, far ahead of China with 45, Great Britain with 38, and Russia with 30.
Last week CityLab’s Kriston Capps highlighted figures from the site Medals Per Capita to show how medal counts can be interpreted differently depending on how you measure them. Today, we introduce our own, slightly different medal tracker to gauge how countries perform across several key metrics.
As Capps pointed out, counting up total medals can be misleading. Some nations are much bigger and richer than others and field bigger teams that compete for more medals. In terms of population, for example, the U.S. is nearly four times bigger than Germany, almost 10 times the size of Canada, and more than 50 times larger than Denmark. And of course, China is four times larger than the U.S.
So, which countries dominated Rio when we control for their population, economic output, and size of their Olympic team?
With the help of my colleagues Charlotta Mellander and Patrick Adler, we ranked each nation’s overall medal performance by their population, economic output (measured in GDP and based on figures from the World Bank’s World Development Indicators), and the number of members in their Olympic delegations.
When you look at Olympic results by these metrics, the list changes considerably.
The chart above takes population size into account, showing the number of medals per 10 million people. Now tiny Grenada takes the top spot. It’s one medal is equivalent to 93.6 medals per 10 million people. New Zealand is second with 17.4, followed by Slovenia with 14.5, Denmark with 12.3, and Hungary with 12.2.
Four other countries—Chinese-Taipei (11.5), Fiji (11.2), Jamaica (11.0) and Lithuania (10.3)—have more than 10 medals per ten million people. (In some cases, these numbers are higher than the countries' actual medal counts to date because their populations are lower than 10 million). The USA falls to 36th place (with 2.15 medals), Russia is now 38th (with 2.08), and China falls to 60th (0.32 medals),
The next chart controls for the affluence of nations, charting the number of medals per $100 billion dollars of GDP. Again, Grenada tops the list: its one medal translates to more than 100 medals (102.2 per $100 billion GDP). Fiji is next with 22.8. The comes Jamaica (with 21.4), followed by Mongolia (17.1), Kosovo (15.7), the Kyrgyzstan (15.2), and Georgia (14.3).
The United States is now 54th (0.38) China 53rd (0.41) and Russia 26th (2.6). (We do not rank North Korea as the World Bank does not include it in its GDP figures).
Our figures differ somewhat from Bloomberg’s medal tracker, which uses GDP-PPP based on purchasing power parity and also includes North Korea, and generates the following rankings:
Grenada (71.4 medals per $100 billion GDP-PPP), North Korea (15), Fiji (12.4), Jamaica (12.2), Kosovo (5.8), Georgia (5.6) and Mongolia (5.5).
We can also control for the efficiency of national Olympic teams, counting medals per Olympic team member. North Korea takes the top spot with 1.93 medals per ten Olympic team members; Grenada is second with 1.43; and Kosovo third with 1.25. But now the U.S. rises to fourth place with 1.22. China is fifth with 1.12 and Russia sixth with 1.06. Great Britain is eighth with 1.05 and Japan is 14th with 0.76. This is perhaps the most useful metric as it shows the countries which are best at generating medals per member of their Olympic teams.