Tallying Olympic Medals

The official method of figuring out who “won” the Lymps is to count who won the most gold, in which case China comes first with 51, and the USA comes second with 36. The USA, however, reckons the combined total is a better method on account of they won 110 medals altogether, while China only won 100.

If you use the first method Australia came sixth; if you use the second we came fifth.

Personally I think the most revealing way to look at the total is in terms of population and GDP. Both of which you can find at this handy site.1


1. Jamaica

2. Bahrain

3. Dominica Republic

4. Mongolia

5. Estonia

6. New Zealand

7. Georgia

8. Australia

9. Norway

10. Slovakia

(USA comes 33rd and China 47th out of the 87 who won medals.)

Australia remains a top ten nation but the truly outstanding effort of places like Jamaica are underlined. They won 6 gold medals with a population of less than 3 million. That’s less than the population of Sydney. Pretty amazing, eh?


1. North Korea

2. Jamaica

3. Mongolia

4. Georgia

5. Ethiopia

6. Kenya

7. Belarus

8. Zimbabwe

9. Bahrain

10. Panama

(Australia comes in 29th, China 30th and the USA 47th.)

I like this table a lot because it illustrates just how much money it takes to be a top-ten Olympic nation. The US and China and Australia and the other top ten nations in the official list have much bigger GDPs than many of the other medal winners. Winning medals without massive amounts of funding and Insititutes of Sports is an amazing achievement.

I am much more proud that the one openly gay male participant in the Olympics, gold-medal winning diver Matthew Mitcham, is Australian than I am of how many medals we won. Watching him win live was my highlight of the Lymps. The Australian coverage of his win was fabulous. I loved that a photo of him kissing his partner was printed in the Sydney Morning Herald. Ten years ago I doubt that would have happened. Here’s hoping in another ten years it will be so ordinary it won’t occur to me to blog about it.

  1. Their figures are taken from wikipedia so I suspect there are some inaccuracies. []


  1. Lizabelle on #

    I had no idea Mitcham was the only openly gay male competitor – even more kudos to him.

    I loved the way the Aussie commentators were all laid back and, “well, I suppose he might do it if he dived out of his skin…he’d need an absolutely amazing dive, but I suppose it’s theoretically possible”. And then he produced the highest scoring dive in Olympic history and everyone went mental. It was fab!

  2. Kevin Wignall on #

    Australia came sixth? That’s a great result. I’m not sure how Great Britain did… oh, come on, you have to allow us our moment of glory, particularly as it’s so rare. And the British results back up your theory about funding, because several of our key sports have benefited from lottery funding over the last ten years.

    My highlight was the Coxless Men’s Fours, and not because we pipped Australia to the medal but because it was such a thriller, a length behind with 250m to go, and we still pulled it back to win.

    Mind you, our Double Decker routine in the handover ceremony was so lame it’s untrue.

  3. Hillary! on #

    Another question: when was the last time you were in Australia?

  4. Dave H. on #

    Nah, the official way is to only count events without judges, and then use a 5-3-1 point scale. Haven’t you been reading my blog? 🙂

    I like the concept behind the GNP and population lists, but they tend to get skewed by countries who throw up one great athlete or focus on one sport. Bahrain makes both lists, but they only won one medal, won by an athlete who trained in Morocco. Zimbabwe looks great, but it is all one American-trained swimmer – Kirsty Coventry. Jamaica is at the top of both lists, but won all their medals in one subset of one sport – sprinting.

    How about this? There were 30-something sports at the Olympics. If you give each country one point for winning a medal in each sport, then how do the tables look by GNP and/or population.

    I guess I have to figure that out now.

  5. Justine on #

    I really think GDP is the most important stat. Rich countries—like Australia and the USA and GB and China—have the money and resources to put together huge teams in many sports. A poor country less able to do that. Running’s one of the cheaper sports to prepare for.

  6. Chris Lawson on #

    I has me doubts about GDP as a measure. North Korea tends to throw a lot of resources at things that have political clout or propaganda value, which is why it has a population about Australia’s and an economy between that of the Faroe Islands and Togo, but still manages to field the fourth-largest army in the world (1.2 million!). Zimbabwe, as Dave says, only ranks well because of one athlete who doesn’t even train in Zimbabwe.

    I think two things are needed to make economics a useful measure. The first is not to look at GDP, which has its economist critics even as a measure of national prosperity, but to look at the amount of national spending that goes into athletics. The second thing is to exclude single-medal performances, just as cricketers need to play a few matches before their averages are counted as meaningful.

  7. james on #

    Nice chart and table.
    I found this widget that displays who won the 2008 Olympics from different perspectives.
    It displays medals won by total medal count and gold count.
    In addition it can show medals won per million inhabitant and per million dollar GDP.

    I think you might like it:-)

    It’s free and easy to embed

  8. Winchester Grey on #

    Thanks for mentioning Matthew Mitcham, who is my new hero. I can’t imagine how different my life might have been if he had been competing, out, 28 years ago when I was swimming and diving seriously.

  9. Electric Landlady on #

    Ha! Canada beats nearly everyone in the DFL standings!

    I do love the Olympics, regardless of how my country does (although it’s nice to win a medal here or there). But I get really annoyed by all the commentary (sadly all too prevalent) suggesting that we suck if we don’t win everything, or that every one of our athletes somehow OWES us a gold medal.

    …sorry, rant. I totally agree with you about GDP, and I love it when little underdog countries come out of nowhere to do well in something!

  10. Justine on #

    Chris: Problem with that is that relatively speaking there’s not much federal funding of sports in the US. A lot of it training and support happens through private means especially private universities.

    Winchester Grey: Isn’t he wonderful? And quite the hero at home.

  11. Dave H. on #

    OK, I just came up with a super stat that takes into account medals won, how many sports they were won in, GDP and population.

    By that standard, the most successful countries:

    1) Cuba
    2) Australia
    3) Norway
    4) Belarus
    5) Ukraine
    6) Slovenia
    7) Mongolia
    8) New Zealand
    9) Georgia
    10) Denmark
    11) Holland
    12) Lithuania
    13) Latvia
    14) South Korea
    15) Hungary
    16) Armenia
    17) Kazakhstan
    18) Croatia
    19) France
    20) Germany

    The United States finishes 43rd, China finishes 49th.

  12. Justine on #

    Impressive! And I do like Australia coming in no. 2.

    Now you just have to factor in how much those countries spend on getting the medals. Watch Australia drop way way way down that list.

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