How many ways are there to count Olympic medals?

How should Olympic medals be counted for country rankings? Some people say countries should be listed by total medals won; others say gold medals should count more than silver and bronze. Still others have suggested counting medals on a per capita basis. The International Olympic Committee stresses that the games are between athletes, not countries, ...

593058_080822_medalcount5.jpg
593058_080822_medalcount5.jpg

How should Olympic medals be counted for country rankings? Some people say countries should be listed by total medals won; others say gold medals should count more than silver and bronze. Still others have suggested counting medals on a per capita basis.

The International Olympic Committee stresses that the games are between athletes, not countries, and Rule 58 of the Olympic charter says, "The IOC and the OCOG shall not draw up any global ranking per country." (The IOC apparently reads the rule loosely, though. On its Web site, it lists countries by number of gold medals, tagging a disclaimer to the bottom of the list, reports the New York Times.)

How should Olympic medals be counted for country rankings? Some people say countries should be listed by total medals won; others say gold medals should count more than silver and bronze. Still others have suggested counting medals on a per capita basis.

The International Olympic Committee stresses that the games are between athletes, not countries, and Rule 58 of the Olympic charter says, “The IOC and the OCOG shall not draw up any global ranking per country.” (The IOC apparently reads the rule loosely, though. On its Web site, it lists countries by number of gold medals, tagging a disclaimer to the bottom of the list, reports the New York Times.)

A letter to the editor in yesterday’s Washington Post offers a novel way to rank countries: weighing medals — for example, 1.0 for gold, 0.9 for silver, and 0.8 for bronze — to account for the extra prestige of winning a gold. Using this weighing system with the medal results as they stand at the moment of this post, the top five countries are:

  1. United States (91.4 weighted total)
  2. China (82.3)
  3. Russia (50.8)
  4. Britain (40.1)
  5. Australia (37.4)

In comparison, the top five countries by total medals won are:

  1. United States (102 total medals)
  2. China (89)
  3. Russia (57)
  4. Britain (44)
  5. Australia (42)

And the top five by gold medals — where the rankings completely change — are:

  1. China (47 gold medals)
  2. United States (31)
  3. Britain (18)
  4. Russia (17)
  5. Germany (14)

Really, though, variations on how to rank countries can go on ad nauseum because countries are in various “weight classes” based on their populations, GDPs, GDPs per capita, etc. (For more on factors that affect Olympic success, check out the Becker-Posner Blog.) Of course, that didn’t stop FP from selecting five countries as “the world’s worst Olympians” — factoring in GDP and how many Olympics they’ve participated in — for one of its recent Lists.

Preeti Aroon was copy chief at Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2016 and was an FP assistant editor from 2007 to 2009. Twitter: @pjaroonFP
Tag: Sports

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