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August 28, 2012

A different ranking at the 2012 Olympics

The Canadian Charger

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It's not surprising that the United States (104 medals), China (88 medals) and Russia (82 medals) finished one-two-three in the medals race at the 2012 Olympics, after all these are three of the largest countries in the world and, in terms of overall wealth, three of the wealthiest.

However, the rankings of medal winners on a per capita basis tell a different story.

Some countries outperformed based on their population size and the number of athletes they sent to London.

On a per capita basis alone, Greneda – an island nation of little more than 100,000 people – finished first, although it won only one gold medal. But the country sent only nine athletes to the Olympics.

Jamaica (12 medals) and Trinidad & Tobago (4 medals), rounded out the top three medal winners, on a per capita basis, while New Zealand (13 medals) - ranked fourth - was the leading medal winner among developed nations, on a per capita basis. Russia finished 34th, Canada (18 medals) 41st, the US 49th, and China 74th, on a per capita basis.

Iran (12 medals), at an additional disadvantage due to sanctions, finished 61st.  India (6 medals) is the last country ranked on the chart, finishing 84th in terms of medals won, on a per capita basis. This was Israel's 15th participation in the Summer Olympics. It was the first Summer Olympics since 1988 in which the country did not win a single medal.

Meanwhile, statistics indicate that the bigger and richer countries from the G7 and the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries generally sent more athletes and won more medals. Among these countries, in terms of medals won per athletes competing, Canada tied for the lead with Brazil. Canada sent 384 athletes and won a medal for every 15.6 athletes competing.

Brazil's numbers were 265 athletes and 15.6 athletes per medal. India sent 83 athletes and won a medal for every 13.8 athletes. Russia numbers were 438 athletes and one medal for every 5.3 athletes; the United States 539 athletes and a medal for every 5.2 athletes; and China 384 athletes and a medal for every 4.4 athletes.

In terms of number of gold medals by population, New Zealand and the Bahamas both won one gold medal for every 350,000 residents, while Canada – 13th on total number of medals - placed 39th in terms of gold medals per capita, with one gold medal for every 1.92, million residents.

GDP is another factor to consider when looking at the number of Olympic medals a county has won, especially considering how expensive training and equipment is and how many athletes can afford to train full time.

However, statistics can be used to paint many different – sometimes conflicting – pictures.

India won six medals at the London Olympics, one for every 20 million Indians. Yet, partly because India is a country focused on education, health and infrastructure, not sports, this represents progress. In fact, its Indian's best performance at the Olympics to date. From 1996 to 2004, India won one medal at each Olympics. At Beijing in 2008, India won three medals and this year it won six – two silver and four bronze.

The Olympics give the world a chance to watch sports we don't normally see on television, at least on a regular basis. Some countries have their particular sports, which they've tended to dominate; however, because the Olympics are so competitive, there's often a strong rival to contend with. Thus it's no surprise that South Korea had a very strong performance in archery, while the Chinese cleaned up in badminton and table tennis.

Meanwhile, some countries didn't live up to expectations in sports they've traditionally dominated. The United States has won 109 boxing medals at the Olympic Games—more than any other country - but the team failed to win a single medal in London.

Australia, with the second most Olympic medals in swimming to its credit, failed to live up to its reputation in London. After winning 20 swimming medals out of the 46 medals it won at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Australia won only 10 swimming medals in London. And who's to fault? Why the swimmers themselves, of course, according to Australian Olympic Committee President John Coates.

Long known for dominating long distance running events, Kenya – which won six medals in Beijing – watched Stephen Kiprotich, of Uganda, defeat its highly regarded Kenyan duo of Abel Kirui and Wilson Kipsang.

After winning three consecutive gold medals in Sydney, Athens and Beijing, the Hungary men's water polo team was defeated in the quarterfinals in London. 

Just because certain countries have an advantage in terms of numbers and wealth, and a history of success doesn't necessarily guarantee future success. Money, numbers and past history are only part of a winning formula. The athletes themselves: their ability, psychological makeup and desire will ultimately determine the results. Those who win can't afford to rest on their laurels and those who lose are using their experience as a springboard for better performances in the future.

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