Who was the real winner from the London Olympic Games? According to a ground-breaking analysis of the official medal tally by a BusinessDay statistician, the most successful nation at the Olympics was … Australia!
Statistics can be used to tell a lot more than one story, of course. Other nations will try to claim victory using lesser formulations. Based on the number of athletes per medal, for example, China will claim it is the winner. Despite occasional murmurs of complaint at being fleeced out of gold, the Peoples’ Republic needed just 4.5 athletes to win a medal of any colour.
From its team of 396 athletes, the Chinese needed 10 athletes to win each of their gold medals. Next best among the top 25 nations at the Olympics was the US, which needed 12 athletes for each gold and 5.1 athletes for all medals. The American team was by far the biggest with 530 athletes.
The 410-strong Australian squad required 12 athletes for a medal, and 59 athletes for each gold medal. It has been well publicised that the 2012 Olympics were a bit lacking on the gold medal front, at least by Australia’s historical standards. Naturally, the proponents of sports funding are therefore calling on government to dig deep – to buy some more medals at the next Games.
Making the numbers add up
But don’t write us off yet. As our statistician Brian Dawes of Perth has expertly pointed out, there are many ways to establish victory in the field of Olympic medal performance.
Dawes canvasses the tried-and-true Aussie formula of calculating gold medals per capita.
“How many of ‘your’ people did it take to win each of your country’s London 2012 Olympic gold?” he asks.
It took about 7 million Americans per gold, 35.5 million Chinese, and “only” 2.1 million British per gold medal – thanks in part to Australian coaches and sports management know-how.
But how did Australia fare? We needed about 3.2 million Aussies per gold medal.
The winner in this division is indubitably Grenada – it took all 110,000 inhabitants of the tiny Caribbean isle to win their gold medal. It took 354,000 from the Bahamas, 676,000 Jamaicans, 739,000 Kiwis and 1,250,000 Hungarians.
Looking at the total medals won per capita, rather than just gold, the winner is Jamaica with 225,000 people per medal, thence 329,000 from Trinidad & Tobago, 341,000 from New Zealand and Bahamas with 354,000.
We needed about 650,000 Aussies per medal won, though we fared far better than the US, which took about 3 million Americans. Better than China too, with 15.5 million Chinese.
Anyone but New Zealand
Although it is welcome news that, on this basis of total medals per capita, we gave the Brits a good whipping (it took 960,000 of them to win each of their Olympic medals), there was something not quite right.
In past Olympic Games calculations, Australians have been more than happy to deploy this per capita measure. It is usually a true measure of national prowess. And it is indeed acceptable, for that matter, to be beaten by small Caribbean island states.
But not by Kiwis.
Any Australian with the pleasure of a Kiwi acquaintance would know, all too well, the feeling of being reminded at the mid-point of the London Olympics that Australia was being beaten by New Zealand on the medal tally.
The only way forward at that stage was to announce, “We’ll take that! Go Australasia!”
And the winner is …
So now we get to the real numbers. Dawes has formulated the only true and just statistical representation of Olympic medal performance.
Dawes calls it the MAP methodology. “Based on a crafty combination of medals won, athletes in your team, and your country’s population, I am please to advise that the real winner of the London Olympics is Australia!”
Using the formula, medals won multiplied by athletes in your team divided by home count population (MAP), here are the top four:
- Australia 632
- Great Britain 565
- Hungary 268
- Russia 250
Team USA scored a measly 175, and China only 23.