Richard Florida is a co-founder and editor at large of CityLab and a senior editor at The Atlantic. He is a University Professor and Director of Cities at the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute, and a Distinguished Fellow at New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate.
Meanwhile, smaller nations with cold climates dominate.
We’re now more than halfway through the Winter Olympic Games, and Team America is getting crushed. How badly? It depends on how you count the medals.
Below, we have organized the medals earned by each country into various categories. To start, we measured overall medals earned, and then we created a weighted list by type of medal earned. Through calculations by my colleague Charlotta Mellander at the Martin Prosperity Institute, we also controlled for population size, economic output, and team size. Our calculations are based on the medal counts as of Sunday night.
(Note: Although the Russian athletes performing this year are competing as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” (or OARs) following an extensive investigation into a doping scandal after the 2014 Winter Olympics, we have treated them simply as Russia in our analysis.)
Let’s start with the basic count of medals earned. Below is a list of the 20 countries that have earned the highest sheer number of medals. In this count, Norway tops the list with 26 medals, followed by Germany, Canada, and the Netherlands. As of February 18, the U.S. was tied for sixth place, alongside Austria, Japan, and France.
When we weight the medals earned—by attributing four points for a gold medal, two for a silver, and one for a bronze—the list looks slightly different. Norway leads again, but now by a smaller margin. Germany takes second place and Canada is tied for third with the Netherlands. The United States moves up to fifth place, beating out Australia, France, and Japan.
However, medals alone don’t paint the full picture. Countries with larger populations and more financial resources often bring a huge number of athletes to the Olympic games. But are they performing better collectively?
Below, you’ll see that the picture changes quite a bit when we control for population—weighted medals per 10 million people. Now, tiny Liechtenstein takes the lead with just one bronze medal for a population of less than 40,000. Norway comes second, followed by Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Canada, which was in the top five by both other counts, falls to ninth. And the United States drops out of the top 20 altogether, falling all the way down to 23rd place.
We also controlled for a country’s economic size, tallying weighted medals for every $100 billion of economic output, or GDP. Here, Norway takes back first place. It is followed closely by Liechtenstein, then Belarus in third, the Slovak Republic in fourth, Austria in fifth, and the Czech Republic in sixth. Canada is now in 12th place, and the U.S. all the way down in 25th.
Last, we controlled for team size, a more direct factor in how many medals a country can take home. Now the Netherlands tops the list, followed by Norway, Liechtenstein, Germany, Austria, and France. Canada comes 10th, and the U.S. is tied for 17th place with the Czech Republic.
We’re a little more than halfway through these Winter Games. So the U.S. still has a chance to gain ground. Some of America’s most prominent athletes, such as Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn, will have medal opportunities in the events to come.
However, the basic conclusion of my previous analysis of the medal counts of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games still seems to hold. The top performers in the 2018 Winter Games are largely the same teams we saw on the leaderboard four years ago. These tend to be smaller countries with colder climates that specialize in winter sports. Indeed, it may always be difficult for Americans to compete in the Winter Olympics against athletes from countries like Norway, where there’s a saying that “Norwegians are born with skis on their feet.”