PARIS – Is there a link between economic power and Olympic medals? Is a form of multipolarity in sports emerging as political multipolarity sets in?
In 1992, immediately after the Cold War’s end, the United States and the former Soviet Union’s “Unified Team” won a quarter of the medals in Barcelona. Global bipolarity had not yet vanished. By the 2008 Beijing games, the world had changed significantly. The Soviet-American duopoly had given way to a Sino-American duopoly, which won a combined 20% of the medals.
The London games confirmed this trend. The Sino-American duopoly has loomed large in the medal count (22% of the total), but not outrageously so. Europe remains strong, while Asia and the Caribbean have made significant headway.
There are, in fact, four factors behind Olympic power: population size, sports traditions, sports policy, and level of development. Taken separately, none of these factors can explain a country’s Olympic record. Collectively, however, their explanatory power is relatively large.