The Countries that Will Win the Most Olympic Medals

Published July 27, 2012

| 24/7 Wall St.

According to a newly released report, the United States is predicted to win the most medals at the London 2012 Olympics. For a country with less than 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. is expected to win 103 medals at the XXX Olympiad, 10% more than the runner up — China. This may come as no surprise to some, considering that it has won the most medals in 14 of the 25 Summer Games that it has participated in, including the past five Games.

Read: The Countries That Will Win the Most Olympic Medals

However, based on a report, published by the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, the number of medals a country wins supports the probability that it will win medals in subsequent Olympics. The report’s model predicted the medal count in Beijing in 2008 with 95% accuracy and has been the most accurate predictor of medal distribution among countries since it was unveiled for the Sydney Games in 2000. Based on the report, 24/7 Wall St. identified the ten countries that will win the most Olympics Medals at the London Summer Games.

The accuracy of the formula is impressive, given that it only considers four main factors. It includes two economic measures — population and gross domestic product (GDP) per capita — which it assigns equal weight. The other two factors that it considers are unique to the Olympics and include total medals won, which it accords the most weight, and whether a country is hosting the Olympics, which has been assigned a different weight with each game.

According to Emily Williams, author of the report and PhD candidate at London Business School and a recent graduate of Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, when looking at the results “the lagged medal share has the biggest impact and the hosting effect is also pretty substantial.” The model takes into account the total number of medals won by each country in every Olympiad since 1960. China and the U.S. have dominated in recent years, which was factored into their 2012 estimate. Meanwhile, Russia, Australia, and Germany, fell below expectations last year, which has hurt their projections for this year as well.

The host effect is considerable and should be a boon to the United Kingdom this summer. “The U.K. stands ready to greatly benefit in terms of its overall medal count and especially its coveted gold medal total,” Williams observes in the report. For the United Kingdom, the model predicts that this advantage will assure third place this summer with 25 golds, up from fourth place in 2008 when it was awarded only 19. It will also increase its total medals won from 47 in 2008 to 62 in 2012.

In the 2004 study which the Williams’ report is based on, the authors suggest that the host effect could be the result of diminished costs for athletes from the host nation to participate, the benefit of participating in a home facility or the motivational force of competing before family, friends and fellow countrymen.

A look at the countries with the most medals demonstrates the impact that a country’s population can have on the eventual medal count. According to the report, “The larger the population a country has, the more chance it will have an athlete with the extraordinary natural ability necessary to become an Olympic champion.” Of the top ten countries that are predicted to win the most medals this year, seven of the 10 are among the 10 most populous countries in the world. The exceptions are Pakistan, Nigeria and Bangladesh.

Neither the population size nor the GDP per capita can be considered in isolation of the other. The U.S. and Germany both do well because they have large populations and considerable wealth. But having an edge in one of these factors can help compensate for a weakness in the other. For instance, China, with its large population, wins more medals than many countries with a higher GDP per capita. Although Australia’s population size ranks just 51st in the world, its GDP per capita ranks seventh, and its standing in the medal count for 2012 is predicted to be seventh.

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Based on the report, “Jolly Good Show: Who Will Win the 2012 Olympic Games in London?,” by Emily Williams, which relies on the model developed by Dartmouth professors Andrew Bernard and Meghan Busse, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the countries that are likely to win the most medals at the 2012 London Games. To approximate the data which was used to calculate the projections, we considered 2011 GDP and population data from the World Bank for the 28 countries that the model predicts will win 6 or more gold medals. We obtained total Summer Olympics medal counts from the NBC website, also to approximate the data used for the formula. For countries that have not consistently had the same borders, including Germany and Russia, the medal counts for the entire area were included. For example, all medals won by the former USSR were included in Russia’s count.

These are the ten countries that will win the most medals in the London Olympic Games.

10. Japan
>Predicted 2012 medal count:
25
>All-time medals:
360
>Population:
127.81 million
>GDP:
$5.87 trillion
>GDP per capita:
$45,903

Japan was the first Asian country to host the Olympics and has hosted three: the Tokyo Summer Games of 1964, the Sapporo Winter Games of 1972 and the Nagano Winter Games of 1998. Japanese athletes tend to bring home medals in judo, gymnastics, swimming and wrestling events. In the 2008 Olympics, Japanese athletes won 25 medals — 13 of them in judo and wrestling events for both men and women. According to Yahoo! Sports, there are five Japanese athletes to watch for in London in events that Japan typically excels in, as well as shooting and equestrian.

9. Italy 
>Predicted 2012 medal count:
26
>All-time medals:
522
>Population:
60.77 million
>GDP:
$2.19 trillion
>GDP per capita:
$36,116

Italy won 28 medals at the Beijing Olympics four years ago, including eight gold medals. While it won those medals in 13 different sports in 2008, ranging from archery to shooting, a quarter of its medal count was from fencing. Italy’s dominance in fencing is expected to continue in 2012. Seven-time Olympic medalist Valentina Vezzali, the flag bearer for Italy at the opening ceremonies, will compete in her fifth Olympics in both the team and individual foil events. She has won five gold medals since 1996 and could become only the fourth Olympian ever to win four consecutive gold medals in the same event. Other returning gold medalists for Italy include boxer Roberto Camarrelle and swimmer Federica Pellegrini.

8. South Korea 
>Predicted 2012 medal count:
29
>All-time medals:
215
>Population:
49.78 million
>GDP:
$1.12 trillion
>GDP per capita:
$22,424

South Korea has the lowest GDP and all-time Summer Olympic medal count on this list, winning 215 since it began competing in 1948. Since the country’s breakthrough in the Los Angeles Olympics of 1984, it has remained a top competitor in the Summer Games, ranking among the top 10 in medal count. Korea’s projected medal count is slightly lower than its previous Olympic outcome of 31 medals: five in archery as well as four gold medals in Taekwondo. Most of the country’s Summer Olympic gold medals have historically come from archery and wrestling events. South Korea hosted the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, and last year, was awarded the rights to host the 2018 winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

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7. France
>Predicted 2012 medal count:
39
>All-time medals:
633 
>Population:
65.44 million
>GDP:
$2.77 trillion
>GDP per capita:
$42,377

France holds the fifth-highest Summer Olympic medal count in the world with 633 medals, and Emily Williams’s analysis projects that the French athletes will win one fewer medal than they did in 2008. During the Summer Games, France’s strongest events have historically been cycling and fencing. In the 2008 Beijing Games, French athletes won the highest medal counts in swimming (six), followed by a tie of four medals for judo and fencing — these three sports accounted for 35% of France’s 2008 medal count. The country hosted five Olympic Games in the 20th century and has participated in 26 Olympic Games. According to the BBC, several French cyclists could be medal contenders in London.

6. Germany
>Predicted 2012 medal count:
39
>All-time medals:
658.5
>Population:
81.72 million
>GDP:  
$3.57 trillion
>GDP per capita:
$43,689

For the 2012 Games, 391 German athletes will participate in 23 different sports. Compared to its 2008 achievement of 41 medals in 22 different sports, Germany’s medal expectations are slightly lower for 2012. Germany’s strength in 2008 was in canoe races, where the delegation won three golds, two silvers and three bronzes. It won an additional five medals, including three golds, in equestrian events. Yet sports such as swimming and track and field, regarded as opportunities for medal pickups because of the number of events, are not strong points for Germany. The country won only three swimming medals in 2008 and only one medal in track and field.

5. Australia
>Predicted 2012 medal count:
42
>All-time medals:
443.5
>Population:
22.62 million
>GDP:
$1.37 trillion
>GDP per capita:
$60,642

While Australia ranks fifth in how many medals it is supposed to win in these London Games, it ranks first among the top 10 all-time medal winners for the number it has won per million citizens, with 19.6. By comparison, the United States, has 7.4 medals per million citizens. Australia has competed in every Summer Games and has hosted two Summer Olympics, Melbourne in 1956 and Sydney in 2000. Many of Australia’s medals have come from its swimmers — 168 to be exact. This is 100 more medals than the Land Down Under won in track and field, the sport in which it had the next best showing.

4. United Kingdom
>Predicted 2012 medal count:
62
>All-time medals:
725.5
>Population:
62.64 million
>GDP:
$2.43 trillion
>GDP per capita:
$38,818

Look for the U.K. delegation to take it up a notch in front of its home crowd. With the country hosting the Olympics for the first time in 64 years, it has doled out nearly $500 million for athletic training and development since 2009, notes the Wall Street Journal. That investment may pay off as the host athletes are expected to win 62 medals this year, up from 47 in 2008 and 30 in 2004. In 2008, U.K. athletes won their medals in 13 different sports. But the track cyclists and road cyclists combined won 14 of those 47 medals, eight of them gold. Cyclist Chris Hoy will be back for his fourth Olympics to defend three of his Olympic titles he won during the Beijing Olympics. Meanwhile, distance runner Mo Farah could be a contender for gold in both the 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter races.

3. Russia
>Predicted 2012 medal count:
67
>All-time medals:
1,445, including USSR
>Population:
141.93 million
>GDP:
$1.86 trillion
>GDP per capita:
$13,089

Counting the all-time number of medals that Russia has won over the course of the Summer Olympics can be confusing because it has competed as many different nations throughout the history of the Games. Including the medals of the USSR, the Russian Federation ranks second with 1,445 all-time medals won at the Summer Olympics, behind the United States with 2,302. The number of medals the world’s largest country by surface area has won is remarkable when you consider that it has competed in eight fewer Summer Games than the United States. Russia has won most of these medals in track and field with 256, gymnastics with 225 and wrestling with 156. Moscow was on a shortlist of five cities bidding to host the 2012 Summer Games. The only Summer Olympics that the country has hosted was in this same city in 1980. The United States boycotted the Games that year.

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2. China
>Predicted 2012 medal count:
94
>All-time medals:
385
>Population:
1,344.13 million
>GDP:
$7.30 trillion
>GDP per capita:
$5,340

In 2008, China hosted its first Olympic Games in Beijing, winning 100 total medals. China’s strongest sporting events are gymnastics, table tennis and diving — it earned 34 medals in these sports in 2008. This year, the Chinese Olympic Delegation and Emily Williams predict that the country will win fewer medals than in 2008. According to the Wall Street Journal, a member of the Chinese delegation performed an analysis that showed that historically, host countries win medals in 32% fewer events in the next Olympics. According to this analysis, China is expected to come home with 68 medals, far fewer than the 94 medals that Emily Williams predicts.

1. United States 
>Predicted 2012 medal count:
103
>All-time medals:
2,302
>Population:
311.59 million
>GDP:
$15.09 trillion
>GDP per capita:
$48,442

The United States is irrefutably the most dominant participating country in Olympic history. The country’s cumulative 2,302 medals is more than double its nearest rival, the USSR, which has won only 1,122 (1,445 including post-Soviet Russia). The U.S. won more gold medals than any other country at 929, compared to the USSR’s 440 (549 including post-Soviet Russia). This year, Williams predicts that 35 of the U.S.’s 103 expected medals will be gold. The U.S. won 110 medals in 24 different sports in 2008. Swimmers won 31 of those medals, while track and field athletes won 23 of them. In 2012, swimming rivals Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte could win a combined count of 14 medals, while up-and-coming swimmer Missy Franklin could alone win seven medals herself. Meanwhile, track sprinters Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards-Ross are in contention for several medals each.

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