The 2008 Beijing Olympics finally concluded with yet another show of pomp and grandeur. So how did these Olympics fare compared to the others? As the BBC Olympics blog put it best, “there are really 204 different Olympic Games every four years – one from the perspective of every country taking part.” So for China, U.K., and India, they were awesome simply in terms of gold medals won (medal in case of India). For the rest? It depends.
If you’ve been watching the Olympics in the United States on NBC, you might get the impression that the U.S. ‘won the Olympics’. After all, almost any medal tally in the media showed U.S. at the top with 110 medals with China second at 100 medals in spite of the fact that the International Olympic committee ranks the countries by gold medals won. Jenna Wolfe, the afternoon NBC commentator loved to say that athletes go to the Olympics to win medals so that’s what she is going to consider. Well, if that were true then I’m sure Phelps would have been just as celebrated if he had won eight bronzes. It is one thing for a country like Togo or Mauritius to be satisfied with a bronze but it is strange when an Olympics superpower like the United States considers all medals equal. And yup, the U.S. ranked the countries by gold medals in the last four Olympics.
So NBC, let us give credit where it is due and acknowledge that China kicked our asses this time. You may choose to harp on favoritism for the host country, age of the gymnasts, and untold resources for athletes but then other countries who’ve have lagged might say the same about you.
Even though we were told ‘taking part’ is everything in the Olympics, everyone likes to look at the rankings. While countries might be ranked by gold medals won, let us not forget that silvers and bronzes are treasured as well. So by assigning value of 3 for every gold, 2 for silver, and 1 for bronze, we can calculate the ‘real total’ of the medals tally. Although I was going to run the analysis after the Games concluded thanks to the data available at Swivel, Ozan Onay had already done an excellent job and I’m reproducing his table(s) here:
2008 Olympics Weighted Medal Tally
China narrowly edges United States so it isn’t really curtains for U.S. dominance considering China had home-field advantage. Russia is a distant third and rest of the countries don’t even make the three-figure mark. It shows you how much China and United States dominate in the Olympics thanks to their expertise in multiple disciplines. We had looked earlier at other forms of tabulations by population and GDP. So how do those rankings look?
2008 Olympics Weighted Medal Tally by Population
2008 Olympics Weighted Medal Tally by GDP
Thanks to just three medals for a growing economy and a populous nation, India ranks right at the bottom for the last two tables and jumps to the middle when medals are weighted by points.
Thanks again to Ozan for creating this script for the above tables. There are other scripts to create tables and graphs over at Swivel. You can download the data for the medals won, GDP, and population from Swivel if you want to run your version of the medals tally. There is a YouCalc widget if you want to display the results on your blog. I had initially thought of weighting the medals tally also by the size of the contingent fielded by each nation since more athletes = more potential medals but then Ozan alerted me to the problem of controlling for team sports which count only one medal per team. Anyway, here is a table for medals per athletes.