Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Olympics Per Capita: Week One

Welcome back to IAT coverage of the world's spectacular festival of archaic European sporting events and other oddly chosen athletic contests!  It has certainly been causing a buzz, and indeed much of the talk at my own office this Friday was about whether "China had passed us" -- "us" being the IAT's country of publication, the United States of America -- or whether "we had passed China."  Either my colleagues were misinformed or the tide of battle has changed radically in the last few days, for at this point in the show "we" are crushing "China" (by which I take it people mean "The People's Republic of China, not including Hong Kong") but are not really in the serious running "ourselves."

Let's take a look at the real state of play, shall we?  As of early afternoon on Sunday, here's....

The Overall Top 25 
#25 Canada (10 medals): One medal per 3,487,060 citizens!
#24 Kazakhstan (5): One per 3,346,800
#23 Azerbaijan (3): One per 3,078,367
#22 France (24): One per 2,722,917
#21 Norway (2): One per 2,512,900
#20 South Korea (20): One per 2,429,000
#19 Romania (8): One per 2,380,367
#18 Sweden (4): One per 2,373,778
#17 Cuba (5): One per 2,249,585
#16 Croatia (2): One per 2,145,306
#15: Czech Republic: (5): One per 2,100,841
#14: Netherlands (8): One per 2,092,009
#13: Moldova (2): One per 1,779,750
#12: United Kingdom (36): One per 1,729,500  **Home field advantage**
#11: Qatar (1): One per 1,699,435
#10: Armenia (2): One per 1,634,250
#9: Lithuania (2): One per 1,593,850
#8: Hungary (7): One per 1,423,143
#7: Mongolia (2): One per 1,422,000
#6: Slovakia (4): One per 1,361,331
#5: Belarus (7): One per 1,351,214
#4: Australia (20): One per 1,134,157
#3: Denmark (8): One per 698,095
#2: Slovenia (3): One per 685,933
#1: New Zealand (7): One per 633,441
So to begin with, lets take our hats off to the plucky Kiwis, Slovenians, and Danes, all of who have so far managed to stay an event ahead of the mighty Australian athletic juggernaut.

"But," you might be saying, "a simple per capita ranking lets small countries sneak in with just a few medals."  This is of course true, but it is an unfortunate point to raise, as if taken seriously it would effectively exclude more than half the countries of the world from meaningful Olympic participation.  But to humor you, let's create an elite club:

The Top 10 -- 10 Medal Minimum 

Now, this is likely to be a volitile ranking, as not only will countries on the list continue to try to increase their medal/population ratios, but countries that are currently a few medals down (New Zealand?  Denmark? Romania?) may well be able to claw their way into the club.  As of right now, here's the top ten:

#10 United States (56) -- One medal per 5,607,107 citizens
#9 Japan (26) -- One medal per 4,905,000 citizens
#8 Italy (14) -- One medal per 4,343,809 citizens
#7 Russia (35) -- One medal per  4,089,057 citizens
#6 Germany (22) -- One medal per  3,720,864 citizens
#5 Canada (10) -- One medal per  3,487,060 citizens
#4 France (24) -- One medal per  2,722,917 citizens
#3 South Korea (20) -- One medal per  2,429,000 citizens
#2 United Kingdom (36) -- One medal per  1,729,500 citizens   

**Home field advantage**
#1 Australia (20) -- One medal per  1,134,157 citizens
As so often in international athletics, we are forced once again to respect Australia's domination of the field to date.

One additional country, China, has won more than 10 medals.  However, its per capita medal count is less than a fifth of that even of the United States, and it is unlikely to become really competitive.

The Large Countries

Odds are, you are reading this report from one of the world's ten largest countries.  If so, let's take a look at how your home team is doing relative to the other giants.

1. China -- Currently in 47th place, with 1 medal per 22,087,705 citizens.
2. India -- A chronic underperformer, India is in 60th place, "last place" among countries with medals... but still, of course, ahead of around 150 countries that don't have any medals at all.
3. The United States of America -- in 37th place, holding its own with a medal for every 5,607,107 people.
4. Indonesia -- Safely ahead of India with a medal for every 118,820,663 people, but still only in 59th place.
5. Brazil -- with a medal for every 27,482,357 folks, Brazil is in 51st Place.
6. Pakistan
7. Nigeria
8. Bangladesh  -- Whoopsie, these three giants have failed to net a single medal between them.  This is no doubt a keen embarassment for their ambassadors to Australia.
9. Russia -- With 4,089,057 people per medal, Russia fares the best among the "Big Ten..."
10. Japan -- ...but with a medal per 4,905,000, it's Nippon at Russia's heels!

All very exciting!  I encourage you to stay tuned to the IAT for continuing sensible coverage of the Olympic scorecard!


UnwiseOwl said...

Of course, there are no Bangladeshi ambassadors to my fine country of Australia, as we are both members of the Commonwealth of nations are therefore trade High Commissioners.
I applaud the ongoing olympic coverage of the IAT, even if the fact checking today is below the high standards that we have come to expect and feel that I should mention that the press here in my fine nation has derided the efforts of our athletes this time around, blaming primarily social media, which has been roundly lambasted. I have forwarded your post to my local media outlet, proud to see that we still top at least one somewhat arbitrary list, but suspect that it will be discarded after they read of the success of our neighbour to the East.
The success of New Zealanders is something that Australians, even with our well-documented love of the underdog, refuse to acknowledge, for fear that they might invade or something.

Ben said...

This is all a very interesting perspective on how to "rank" medal counts, but how do you account for the fact that, in most cases, countries are only allowed to field one team or a certain number of individuals per event?

You might argue that, since there are more people in the populous countries to pull from, those teams should be fielding better teams than less popular countries. This would seem to back up your claim that some of these less populous countries have better athletes than the larger ones. I'm no statistician, but something seems wrong to me about this method of ranking.

I wonder how the medal rankings would look if each country sent a number of athletes proportional to their populations to the Olympics. If you're ranking medals on a per capita basis, perhaps the number of eligable athletes should also be set on a per capita basis.

Rebel said...

Ben - I had a similar thought (re: the number of teams per country) as I was watching the games. I think at least, we need to figure out the total possible medals for each country before determining who is living up to expectations and who is not.

Michael5000 said...

Ben and Reb -- You may be thinking about this too hard, although I salute that kind of thing and would certainly welcome reading any additional work on the subject of the time that Rebel proposes, especially if it involved spreadsheets.

Ben, the logic you propose vis-a-vis team sports in your second paragraph is essentially reasonable (in a rough-and-ready sort of way) given a large number of countries, a large number of events, a strong variability in talent in the various events, and -- here's the key -- a lack of extrinsic cultural or economic variables. Wherein lies the rub.

Which is to say: I would happily concede that it's silly to count Olympic medals per capita. But it's nowhere near as silly (and much more fun) as counting gross Olympic medals per country.

Michael5000 said...

Owl: Nothing arbitrary about it. I used math.

It would be a grim day, the Kiwis swimming ashore at dawn all up and down the eastern coast, razor-sharp knives clenched in their teeth...

Rebel said...

Fair enough - if I were not in school right now, I could make some fairly impressive spreadsheets... and would submit them for DorkFest 2012 consideration. However...sentences must be diagrammed... so I will concede the point.

In other news. The L&TofM5K most favored nation Estonia currently has 2 medals! Woot!

Michael5000 said...

Hmm, you know, maybe we should have a dorkfest this year. Morgan has kept the bar high for two or three years, but maybe there should be fresh dork blood.

That's not a threat to Morgan, I'm just speaking figuratively.