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Who are the real Olympic Champs? Islands Business. 16 August 2012


The real Olympic Champions:  Grenada, Jamaica, and Trinidad …

Island Business, 16 August 2012

These last two weeks, TV viewers all over the world, have been focusing on the Olympics Medal Tally by countries.

Will United States reign supreme?  Or will China finally take over? Should you judge countries by gold medals or by total numbers of medals?  Does the great success of that young Chinese swimmer indicate she was “doping”?

It is a pity that the media does not dig deeper into Olympic medal results, as sports experts know that Total Medals won by a country can be very misleading.

The number of medals won by a country, depends on the size of the population, the country’s wealth (Gross Domestic Product), numbers of medals available for each sport, how the country is defined geographically, whether the country is the host nation, governments’ priority in resources for sports, and other intangible factors  such as the “sporting culture” of the people (often to do with skills suited for war), and of course, sheer individual brilliance.

Those who understand elementary statistics, can read this article here which sets out a lovely mathematical model by Bernard and Busse, whose predictions have previously been within 2 or 3 medals for each country.

All students should go to this web-page which gives you Olympic rankings by all kinds of criteria: medals per million population, medals per trillion dollars of GDP, Total Medals (gold + silver + bronze), “Weighted Total Medals” (where a gold medal is arbitrarily given a value of 4, a silver is given 2 and a bronze is given 1), and even the “Host Country” effect.  You can have real fun with the numbers.

Put simply:  “there is no level playing field in sports”.

So who might be the REAL OLYMPIC CHAMPION COUNTRIES if you did try to level things out?

First of all remember that Olympics are also about participation in a grand global event bringing together athletes of all nationalities, not just about winning medals.

Second, athletes may not win medals, but can still make fantastic improvements in their own performance.

So let us first get out of the way two factors we can do nothing about.

 What “country”?

The medal tally for a “country” depends which regions and people are considered part of the “country”.

Three decades ago, the only real challenger to the United States was the Soviet Union, which understood that sports was a peaceful propaganda surrogate for war.

If you defeat your enemy in sports, psychologically, you are defeating them in war (hence the jingoistic flag raising).

The Soviet Union during the “Cold War” used to devote massive amounts of resources to sports, in the same way that China is doing today.

But when the Soviet Union broke up into separate countries, its dominance was also broken, leaving only Russia in our minds. For fun, add up the total medals of countries who were once part of the Soviet Union.

The same with Yugoslavia today.

What about Britain which aggregates the medals for England, Scotland and Wales, normally bitter enemies in rugby and soccer?

What about the impact of immigration: how many medals would Britain or Canada or United States have, without those won by the recent West Indian and African migrants?

How many medals for each sport?

We could also ask why are different sports given vastly different numbers of medals?

Why are so many medals awarded for swimming other water sports, when many countries are either land-locked, have no experience or culture of water sports, and many are too poor to have Olympic sized swimming pools for practice?

What about the many team sports (relays, soccer, basket ball etc) where only one medal is awarded per team?

Let us come to the fun statistics which I derived from the website above, a couple of days ago (some numbers may be different today).

Total Medals and Population

Of course, countries with higher populations ought to win more medals.

China, with more than 1.4 billion people, ought to have more medals than Unites States, (even assuming that the numbers of athletes are in the same proportion which they are not).

But the real champs by Total Medals per million of population are

1. Grenada (only 1 medal)

2. Jamaica

3. Trinidad and Tobago

4. Bahamas (only 1 medal)

5. New Zealand

10. Australia

17. Cuba

33. Russia….. and way down,

50. United States

73. China

85. India.

Jamaica, Trinidad, New Zealand and Australia are clearly doing extremely well.

China and United States are nowhere at the top (Russia does better).

Total Medals and Wealth (GDP)

We also know that if a country is wealthy and devotes abundant resources on their sports, in terms of facilities, coaching, competitions, etc., you can expect superior performance.

So ranking by “Total Medals per Trillion dollars of GDP”:

1.  Grenada

2. Jamaica

3. Mongolia

4. Georgia

5. Cuba

9. Kenya

10. Trinidad

13. New Zeeland

31. Australia

33. Russia

… and way down

64. China

67. United States

85. India.

Again, the names of Jamaica, Cuba, Kenya, Trinidad, and New Zealand crop up near the top.

Again, China and United States are way down, well below Russia even.

Population and Wealth Together

A very rough way of looking at both population and wealth together is to take the average of their ranks by “Medals per million population”, and the rank by “Medals per trillion GDP” (i.e. they have the same impact- which they don’t). This is what you get:

1. Grenada

2. Jamaica

3. Trinidad

7. New Zeeland

8. Cuba

19. Australia

32. Russia……..   way down

61. United States

70. China

85. India.

Again, the great Olympic champion countries are Jamaica and Trinidad.

And there is New Zealand doing well with 7th place, and Australia in 19th place.

All are higher by a long way, than countries like United States (61) and China (70).

So why on earth has there been a media frenzy over China winning so many medals in the London Olympics?   They are not high on the list by either medals per population or medals per GDP.

We should know that given that China is now devoting huge resources to sports, accelerated by the Beijing Olympics, and given their rise as an economic super-power, given their massive population, then their total medals won MUST NATURALLY AND DRAMATICALLY INCREASE over the next two decades, and probably exceed United States by the next Olympics in Rio.

What of the doping allegations against the young Chinese swimmer?

The Olympics data since 1946 on the records in the two swimming events won by the young Chinese athlete indicate that in one event she reduced the world record by just around a second (no big deal: in previous years other winners had reduced the time by as much as two seconds, with no allegation then of “doping”).

In her other gold medal win, she broke the Olympic record but not the world record, apparently done similarly by young swimmers previously.

Without evidence to the contrary, the doping allegations against China must be seen to be just “racist bad sports” by western countries which cannot cope with the rise of China as a sporting super power, just as United States is at the moment, and Britain was in a bygone era.

Of course, a lovely PhD can be earned by clarifying why India also with a billion people and also a rising economic super-power does so pathetically at the Olympics.

Pacific countries, Australia and NZ?

For us, an interesting question ought to be asked: why is it that Jamaica, Trinidad, Bahamas and Grenada are so successful in the Olympics, while the Pacific countries are not in the same league.

I suspect that part of the answer may be the very rich relationships in sports and movement of sports people between the Caribbean countries and the richer developed countries of United States, Canada and Great Britain.

The Pacific countries, in  contrast, have not had the same enriching relationships with Australia and NZ in any of the Olympic sports.

Just as they do not have the enriching relationships in rugby Super 14, soccer or netball.

Which is a great pity, for both the Pacific countries, and Australia and NZ.

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