Who Won the 2016 Rio Olympics?

August 22nd, 2020 by 

Every time an Olympics wraps up, we've got a silly tradition here on DQYDJ where we calculate some of the more dubious adjusted medal counts proposed to 'level' out the successes of various countries.

There is some value with taking a shot(put?) at this - a proper adjustment would be great, and we're not going to Nirvana Fallacy all over the concept of adjustment in general.  It's just that while the aim is noble, in practice adjusting isn't a good idea because the United States (for example) can't send 30 gymnasts or 10 basketball teams to the games.

That's enough disclaimer.  Let's look at the first presentation and the only official statistic... the actual medal count (courtesy of Wikipedia):

Who won the 2016 Rio Olympics?

All countries with 15 or more total medals in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games (Wikipedia).  By this count, the United States was the winner.

Onto the Other Olympic Success Measures: Medals vs. GDP and Medals vs. Population

However dubious adjusting medal count for country GDPs and populations is, it's still a fun diversion.

Sports inspire arguments - it's the very nature of sports, and far superior to other methods of resolving conflict between countries.  The truth is, even though these adjusted measures are biased against very rich or very populous countries for the aforementioned reasons, they do tend to reveal countries which are punching above their weight.

This year, by this author's calculations, that would be Jamaica, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Croatia.  They outperform on measures of 'GDP dollars per medal' (the inverse of medals per dollar of GDP) and 'Population per Medal' (the inverse of medals per capita).

Dollars of GDP per Medal and Dollars of GDP per Gold

Our first dubious statistic is our Dollars of GDP per Medal table.  We ran these numbers for all countries with 5 or more medals, and used Wikipedia's country nominal GDP table.  (All numbers are from the IMF's 2016 estimate column unless noted below.  Retrieved August, 2016.)

CountryDollars of GDP per MedalDollars of GDP per Gold
 Jamaica (JAM)$1,277,909,090.91$2,342,833,333.33
 Azerbaijan (AZE)$1,952,277,777.78$35,141,000,000.00
 Georgia (GEO)$1,991,714,285.71$6,971,000,000.00
 North Korea (PRK)*$2,485,142,857.14$8,698,000,000.00
 Serbia (SRB)$4,672,625,000.00$18,690,500,000.00
 Uzbekistan (UZB)$4,742,230,769.23$15,412,250,000.00
 Kenya (KEN)$4,976,000,000.00$10,781,333,333.33
 Croatia (CRO)$4,992,800,000.00$9,985,600,000.00
 Belarus (BLR)$5,098,555,555.56$45,887,000,000.00
 Kazakhstan (KAZ)$6,832,411,764.71$38,717,000,000.00
 Cuba (CUB)*$7,013,636,363.64$15,430,000,000.00
 Ukraine (UKR)$7,595,454,545.45$41,775,000,000.00
 Hungary (HUN)$7,848,600,000.00$14,716,125,000.00
 Ethiopia (ETH)$8,429,375,000.00$67,435,000,000.00
 New Zealand (NZL)$9,440,111,111.11$42,480,500,000.00
 Czech Republic (CZE)$18,526,900,000.00$185,269,000,000.00
 Denmark (DEN)$20,118,933,333.33$150,892,000,000.00
 Russia (RUS)$20,227,500,000.00$59,617,894,736.84
 South Africa (RSA)$26,621,300,000.00$133,106,500,000.00
 Colombia (COL)$31,655,000,000.00$84,413,333,333.33
 Greece (GRE)$32,432,333,333.33$64,864,666,666.67
 Romania (ROU)$36,388,800,000.00$181,944,000,000.00
 Netherlands (NED)$40,132,684,210.53$95,315,125,000.00
 Great Britain (GBR)*$41,208,358,208.96$102,257,777,777.78
 Australia (AUS)$41,406,206,896.55$150,097,500,000.00
 Poland (POL)$43,045,545,454.55$236,750,500,000.00
 Sweden (SWE)$46,613,454,545.45$256,374,000,000.00
 Iran (IRI)$48,265,000,000.00$128,706,666,666.67
 France (FRA)$58,685,476,190.48$246,479,000,000.00
 Malaysia (MAS)$61,852,400,000.00$0.00
 South Korea (KOR)$62,914,285,714.29$146,800,000,000.00
 Italy (ITA)$66,024,642,857.14$231,086,250,000.00
 Canada (CAN)$66,469,545,454.55$365,582,500,000.00
 Thailand (THA)$68,287,333,333.33$204,862,000,000.00
 Spain (ESP)$73,080,000,000.00$177,480,000,000.00
 Belgium (BEL)$77,541,333,333.33$232,624,000,000.00
 Brazil (BRA)$80,777,894,736.84$219,254,285,714.29
 Germany (GER)$82,566,190,476.19$203,987,058,823.53
 Switzerland (SUI)$93,110,000,000.00$217,256,666,666.67
 Turkey (TUR)$93,898,250,000.00$751,186,000,000.00
 Japan (JPN)$107,624,390,243.90$367,716,666,666.67
 United States (USA)$148,322,280,991.74$390,152,086,956.52
 China (CHN)$155,234,914,285.72$417,940,153,846.15
 Mexico (MEX)$216,486,000,000.00$0.00
  • Cuba - estimate from the World Bank for 2013
  • Great Britain - uses the United Kingdom's number
  • North Korea - estimate from the UN for 2014

People Per Medal and People Per Gold

Our second dubious statistic is the people per medal table.  The populations were taken from Wikipedia's country by population article, with estimates from the United Nations in 2016 (Retrieved August 2016).

CountyPeople per MedalPeople per Gold
 Jamaica (JAM)247,568453,874
 New Zealand (NZL)261,5641,177,040
 Denmark (DEN)381,6302,862,228
 Croatia (CRO)419,067838,134
 Georgia (GEO)531,4861,860,200
 Azerbaijan (AZE)541,9729,755,500
 Hungary (HUN)654,8671,227,875
 Australia (AUS)833,3033,020,725
 Serbia (SRB)884,5473,538,186
 Netherlands (NED)891,9372,118,350
 Sweden (SWE)900,5764,953,166
 Great Britain (GBR)*971,7912,411,481
 Cuba (CUB)1,021,7282,247,801
 Kazakhstan (KAZ)1,044,3065,917,733
 Belarus (BLR)1,055,4119,498,700
 Czech Republic (CZE)1,055,85210,558,524
 Switzerland (SUI)1,191,6572,780,533
 France (FRA)1,538,4526,461,500
 Canada (CAN)1,659,1239,125,175
 Greece (GRE)1,809,6703,619,339
 Belgium (BEL)1,887,1125,661,337
 Germany (GER)1,946,9264,810,053
 Italy (ITA)2,166,6277,583,194
 South Korea (KOR)2,419,1155,644,601
 Uzbekistan (UZB)2,428,8697,893,825
 Russia (RUS)2,618,5717,717,895
 United States (USA)2,680,1247,049,891
 Spain (ESP)2,731,6726,634,060
 Japan (JPN)3,097,56110,583,333
 Kenya (KEN)3,396,6607,359,430
 North Korea (PRK)3,459,07312,106,755
 Poland (POL)3,494,29419,218,620
 Ukraine (UKR)3,878,01421,329,075
 Romania (ROU)3,972,20019,861,000
 South Africa (RSA)5,565,36527,826,827
 Colombia (COL)6,100,33816,267,567
 Malaysia (MAS)6,345,4600
 Turkey (TUR)9,842,75078,742,000
 Iran (IRI)9,934,73826,492,633
 Brazil (BRA)10,870,68429,506,143
 Thailand (THA)10,954,85032,864,549
 Ethiopia (ETH)12,731,625101,853,000
 China (CHN)19,690,42953,012,692
 Mexico (MEX)25,726,4000
  • Great Britain - uses the United Kingdom's number

Adjusting Olympic Medal Counts

These methods obviously aren't the best in the world, but they do reveal some of the 'underdogs' once you allow a little editorializing.

To most people watching the games, Jamaica is an obvious choice for the hidden winner.  Beyond Usain Bolt's 3 gold medals (including in the 4x100), there were 8 other medals won by the small country... including 3 other golds.  Jamaica is at the top of both of the adjusted lists, so some value is confirmed - and we can argue about the rest of the countries.


Is there a perfect adjustment possible? 

Of course not - it would be impossible to perfectly level the advantages and disadvantages of every nation for summer and winter games.

If there was a measure, it'd probably take geographic constraints (perhaps, degrees of latitude?) into consideration too, especially for the winter games.  Consider the sheer amount of land Russia, Canada and the United States claim that get "real" winters.

Now consider that the most famous Olympic movie of all time is about, of course, Jamaica's underdog bobsled team.  People love to watch an underdog, and it makes logical sense that geographic constraints mean small island nations near the equator shouldn't compete too strongly with countries that have land in the arctic circle at any particular Winter Olympics.

Regardless of the weaknesses of any individual adjustment, we'll always have arguments - so argue in the comments!

What's the best way to adjust the medal count, and where does your favorite country rank?  Anyone from Jamaica  or elsewhere want to make a stronger case for Jamaica winning the 2016 Rio Games?



PK started DQYDJ in 2009 to research and discuss finance and investing and help answer financial questions. He's expanded DQYDJ to build visualizations, calculators, and interactive tools.

PK is in his mid-30s and works and lives in the Bay Area with his wife, two kids, and dog.

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