Alternative Olympics medal table

2000 Sydney Olympic Games, Gold Medal, Tara No...
Are all gold medals equal? (Photo credit: Wikipedia) CC Attribution 2.0 license

first update of alternative medal table here

second update here

final version here

The Olympic medal table is fascinating. Fascinating because it is a system of classification for almost every nation in the world across such a diverse range of sports. Scrutinising it is one of the many joys of the Olympic Games. However, one of its flaws is that some sports are given much more weighting than others because in these sports far more medals are given. There are 34 gold medals in swimming, yet in team sports like basketball and handball there are just two.

I have created an alternative medal table, where each sport has an equal weighting in the table, so a nation’s performance in one sport is as important as in any other sport. Each sport is given ten ‘points’, and these are split among nations based on the proportion of gold medals in the sport won. For example, France won two of the four Canoe Slalom gold medals, so they have five points. Great Britain and Italy, who won the other two, each get 2.5 points. The final table gives an idea of the overall success of nations at doing well in all the sports. The calculation in based on the percentage of all gold medals that can be won, not just all the gold medals that have been won already, so the full ten points are not allocated in sports where there are future gold medals to be won.

There are several limitations to my alternative table. Giving equal weighting to all sports vastly reduces the effect of an individual gold medal in sports like athletics, whilst giving massive importance to each gold in a sport with few gold medals to be won. For Nicola Spirig’s narrow triathlon win, Switzerland get five points. The USA has won 16 golds in swimming but end up with a number less than five for that sport. It would be very hard for a single nation to dominate a sport where lots of gold medals are awarded in the same way that the USA is likely to dominate basketball by winning both gold medals in the men’s and women’s competitions. Furthermore, I’ve classified sports in the same way as London 2012. This means there are four cycling ‘sports’, and the Modern Pentathlon and the  Triathlon are separate sports, whilst every other athletics event comes under one sport. Finally, this measurement ignores silver and bronze medals. This is the similar to the normal Olympic medal table (where the number of silver medals is only used if nations are equal on gold and the number of bronze medals is only used if nations are level on gold and silver). However, overall I think it gives a good indication of a nation’s strength in doing well at a range of sports. Of course, there are plenty more medals to be won, so this table is far from complete.

As you can see, the alternative table is fairly similar to the real one. China’s strength in my table is incredible, though, representing the fact they have gold medals in ten sports already, whereas over 60% of the USA’s gold medals are currently from swimming. They have some claim to be better overall at the Olympics than the USA, who will presumably be their main rivals for the next few summer Games. Team GB are strong in both tables, helped by the proportion of golds won in track cycling and rowing (not athletics, despite tonight’s incredible three golds). Switzerland and Canada appear in my table on the basis of just one gold medal each.

real Olympic medal table

rank nation total (golds)
1 USA 26
2 China 25
3 Great Britain 14
4 Republic of Korea 9
5 France 8
6 Germany 5
7 Italy 5
8 Kazakhstan 5
9 DPR Korea 4
10 Russia 3

alternative Olympic medal table

rank nation total (points)
1 China 29.40
2 USA 16.06
3 Great Britain 13.16
4 Republic of Korea 12.26
5 Italy 7.67
6 France 7.61
7 Germany 5.76
8 Kazakhstan 5.17
9 Switzerland 5.00
10 Canada 5.00

table headings changed 07/08/12

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