Olympian Economics

This year's Olympics confirmed once again that the medal count can be predicted with great accuracy from four key variables: population, GDP per capita, past performance, and host status. Everything else – different training structures, better equipment, and so forth – is pretty much noise.

LONDON – As Olympic mania swept the world in recent weeks, it transported the host country, Great Britain, to a rare display of public exultation. Indeed, the successes of “Team GB” produced an upsurge of patriotic rejoicing akin to victory in war. Britain finished third in the gold medal count, behind the United States and China, much larger countries, but ahead of Russia, which traditionally competes with America for first place.

So, what is the secret of Olympic success? The acquisition of medals, precisely because it gives so much satisfaction, has become the object of scientific inquiry and national endeavor. Before the 2012 Games, the Financial Times combined four economic models to produce the following “consensus” prediction of gold medals (the actual results are in brackets): 1. United States, 39 (46); 2. China, 37 (38); 3. Great Britain, 24 (29); 4. Russia, 12 (24); 5. South Korea, 12 (13); and 6. Germany, 9 (11). The gold medal rankings and overall medal placement (gold, silver, and bronze) were correctly predicted in all cases.

The most striking finding is that the medal count can be predicted with great accuracy from four key variables: population, GDP per capita, past performance, and host status. Everything else – different training structures, better equipment, and so forth – is pretty much noise.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

To access our archive, please log in or register now and read two articles from our archive every month for free. For unlimited access to our archive, as well as to the unrivaled analysis of PS On Point, subscribe now.

required

By proceeding, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, which describes the personal data we collect and how we use it.

Log in

http://prosyn.org/3ye6Cmt;

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated cookie policy and privacy policy.