Following the Beijing Olympics I wrote a post on handicapping the medal count by a country’s GDP per capita. The purpose for this was to give more credit to the countries that got the most medals out of limited resources (both people and money). Ethiopia came out on top of that list by winning a lot of medals relative to its average citizen’s limited economic resources. It’s high time I did the same for the Sochi Olympics.
You may recall the top five medal winning countries in Sochi were: Russia, the U.S., Norway, Canada, and the Netherlands. Each country should be justifiably proud of its accomplishments, but how well should they have done?
Richard Florida already answered that question several different ways in his article, Did Russia Really Win the Sochi Medal Count? Accounting for population (larger countries should win more medals) the top five become: Norway, Slovenia, Austria, Latvia, and Sweden. All small, cold-climate countries specializing in Winter Olympic events. The bottom five were the U.K., Japan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and China. Larger countries (and one huge one) not particularly good at winter sports.
And accounting for GDP (wealthier countries should win more medals), the top five are: Slovenia, Latvia, Belarus, Norway, and Austria. Here there’s a strange mixture of poor economies with good medal showings, and great economies with outstanding medal results. The bottom five were Australia, the U.S., the U.K., Japan, and China. Economic powers who are much better at Summer Olympic events.
But one thing I like to do (which Florida didn’t) is combine those two variables using GDP per capita. GPD per capita takes the all the money a country makes in a year (GDP) and divides it up by population (per capita) giving a rough estimate of the average salary. The more money the average citizen makes, the more resources he or she has to train and pursue Olympic glory. The lower the salary the more difficult (in theory) to one day stand on the podium.
The results: Russia is still #1. With a haul of 33 medals and an average salary of only $14,200, Russians made the most of their limited resources. Surprisingly China comes in second. The Chinese team only came home with 9 medals, but an average salary of only $6,100 pushes them up the list (China was also #2 in the last Summer Olympics). Belarus takes third place with numbers similar to China. Then comes the U.S. and the Netherlands, with medal counts of 28 and 24 respectively and average salaries at or near $50,000.
The bottom five: Kazakhstan, the U.K., Croatia, Slovakia, and Australia. Penalized for low medal counts (1 each for Kazakhstan, Croatia, and Slovakia) and high salaries ($50,000 for the U.K. and $70,000 for Australia) these countries didn’t get much from the Sochi games.*
Speaking of salaries, even with Norway’s impressive medal count, taking their incredibly high $106,000 GDP per capita number into account is enough to push them into the bottom 10, a position they held in the Summer Olympics too. A small Nordic country with a booming economy ought to be able to win 26 Winter Olympic medals.
As always, countries wishing to improve their positions can do any or all of the following for Pyeongchang in 2018: win more medals, lower their GDPs, or increase their populations.
*To be fair, the many countries that competed but failed to win any medals at all are mercifully spared from these lists.