How Great Britain Did Not Do As Well As Australia At The London Olympics

Sure, they came 3rd with 29 gold, 17 silver, 19 bronze and 65 overall. Given that they’re the 22nd most populous country in the world they are clearly performing well above expectations. They are also the 22nd richest country. So, again, well done Great Britain!

However, let us not forget the incredible boost that the home country advantage gives you in the Olympics.

At the Sydney Olympics in 2000 Australia came 4th overall with 16 gold medals, 25 silver, 17 bronze, 58 in total.

For Great Britain to have surpassed Australia’s efforts at our home olympics they needed to do three times as well as we did, given that they have three times our population. We are the 52nd most populous country in the world.

They needed 48 gold, 75 silver, and 51 bronze.

What did they get? 29 gold, 17 silver, 19 bronze.

I’m sorry, Great Britain. Great effort but not quite good enough. I feel quite sure that you’ll get much closer to that total at your next home Olympics.

Dear Scott,

You were right. Maths1 is lots of fun!



In all seriousness: I think the true “victors” of the Olympics are all the countries who were able to have people compete despite having to get to London on the smell of an oily rag. And the women who competed despite insane pressures not to. Such as Wojdan Shaherkani and Sarah Attar of Saudia Arabia.

  1. Or arithmetic. Whatever. Numbers. I talked about numbers. []


  1. Lizabelle on #

    My favourite is the Afghan female sprinter, Tahmina Kohistani. I cannot imagine the courage it must have taken her to actually get to London and compete. What an amazing woman.

    Not getting into the Aus vs UK thing. 🙂

  2. Justine on #

    Lizabelle: I know. It really is awe inspiring.

    Not getting into the Aus vs UK thing.

    Ha! Some of my best friends are from the UK. I’d even let my sister marry one. Well, maybe . . . 🙂

  3. Dave Hogg on #

    So GB (and NI some of the time) has three times the population of Oz? That means that, to have considered to have done well, Australia only needed one-third of the number of gold medals as Great Britain in the London Games.

    Let’s check:

    Team GB: 29 gold medals.
    Team Oz: 7 gold medals.

    Sorry, Australia, maybe next time. After all, the Olympics are in the Southern Hemisphere, so you’ll have that going for you. Besides, you did tie Kazakhstan!

    Love, a neutral in the United States (46 golds)

  4. Justine on #

    Dave Hogg: You sadden me with your reading comprehension failure, young Dave. You seemed to have missed that my whole post is predicated on home country advantage. Australia does not have home country advantage in the UK. In fact, other than NZ, it is the most hostile place for us to play sport. They hates us on sporting fields they do.

    Fortunately the feeling is reciprocated. So we have a real comparison to make. I.e. How did GB do at the Sydney Olympics?

    11 Gold, 10 silver, 7 bronze, 28 in total.

    Oh, that is disappointing. They really should have won 3 x what we won in London, which would have been 21 gold, 48 silver and 36 bronze.

    Though we came 10th in London, and they came 10th in Sydney. So we’re equal except for that pesky thing of them having three times the amount of people that we have.

    As for Kazakhstan coming 12th overall. Pretty amazing, wasn’t it? They are only the 62nd most populous country and, even more impressive, they’re 70th on the list of wealthy countries. Well done, Kazakhstan. And, bonus, you really annoyed Russia.

  5. Becky on #

    You must be Australian…

  6. Aaron on #

    Per capita is actually slightly biased against larger countries.

    It seems fair but it isn’t.

    Here’s why.

    China is the most populous country, with 1,344mill citizens. If any country with a population of less than 1/300th of china’s = 4.5 million gets 1 gold medal, then to equal that country, china would need to get all the remaining 300 or so gold medals.

    However, there are around 80 different states with a population of less than 4.5 million. If ANY of these states gets a gold medal, then China can NEVER be number one in the rankings per capita. Fair enough you say, because to get 1 gold with only 4.5million people is the same as China getting 300 golds with 1344million people.

    But look again. How many people actually had a shot to get the gold medal which beats China? ANYONE from ANY of the 80 states could have done it. It doesn’t matter which country they come from so long as the total pop. size of the country is less than 4.5million.

    But the total population inside all the 80 small countries is a lot more than 4.5 million. It’s about 121 million.

    Assume the 121 million only gets 1 gold medal between them.
    So 79 small countries come last, but 1 small country that has the gold medal beats china (and probably every other sizeable country).

    Another way to refute ‘per capita’ is as follows:

    Divide the 121 million people up into 121 million separate countries. Then every single time a person out of the 121 million gets a gold medal, china would need to get 1344000000 gold medals to break even with that ‘country’.
    (even though china’s population is only about 11 times the 121 million, it has to get billions more medals to break even).

    So the more small countries there are, the less fair the ‘per capita’ ranking is to larger countries.

    I’m not sure how to correct for this though. If you did Australia would probably still do better than GB, but not by quite as much as your figures suggest…

    Lies, damned lies, and statistics!

  7. Caroline on #

    Statistics program More or Less compared medal predictions based on population and GDP and a more sophisticated model including home advantage and previous performance with the actual results. Results and some discussion at the link below.

    Australia got about 40% more medals than they should based on population and GDP, but slightly underperformed considering prior performance.

    The UK got about double the medals than the basic prediction and 45% more than the sophisticated prediction including the home advantage and prior performance. I think this is partly because in the last few years we’ve kicked up our performance a lot (secondary home advantage effect?), which doesn’t show up in the prior performance averaging out of many years.

  8. Justine on #

    Aaron: Well, obviously my method is better cause Australia comes out well ahead of GB. Sheesh!

    Caroline: But once again that’s not comparing like with like. I’d need to see their analysis of how Australia did at the Sydney games, not the London games, to compare with GB’s performance at the London games. It’s the only way you can account for massive home advantage.

    As for the why of both those spectacular performances—by Australia in Sydney and GB in London—it’s simple: money.

    Both countries spent the ten + years before those games spending their arses off on seeking Olympic success.

  9. Caroline on #

    Argh, there was a whole other bit of conversation in my head that didn’t make it onto the page. I basically agree with your argument (Australia has a higher GDP per capita than the UK, which I think should bring down the number of medals needed for us to be equivalent. But that’s just quibbling and wouldn’t change the conclusion). This is just data that I thought was interesting and vaguely relevant as it looks at the wider issue of country performance versus expectations based on size and wealth.

    And I had a whole long discourse on things that interest me about the predictions and the results, but it’s not really on topic, so I shall leave it here and just say Go Australia!

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