/ 10 August 2012

Medal tally: Size matters

If medals were redistributed according to GDP
If medals were redistributed according to GDP

You hardly have to look at the Olympic medals table to know that China is on top and the United States in second place, but what if you adjust for ­factors such as gross domestic product (GDP), population size, team size and money spent on athletes?

Using such a matrix suggests that the real winners are lesser nations, at least in size, notably Grenada, Cyprus and Jamaica.

The Guardian commissioned a team of statisticians to recalculate the results in terms of these factors. If medals were redistributed according to GDP, South Africa's overall ranking of 27th (as at August 8) would drop to 42. Grenada would rank number one (one gold medal and GDP of $636-million), Jamaica number two and Armenia number three.

Economists Tyler Cowen and Kevin Grier, in an article published on the Grantland website, said per-capita income is a key factor ­determining Olympic success. "If athletic ability is roughly equally distributed around the globe, the more citizens you have, the more great athletes you are likely to have," they said.

If victories were calculated in relation to population size, Grenada would be world champion. Cyprus would be placed second and Slovenia would be in third place. South Africa would drop to 54.

Team size may be a better indicator, according to The Guardian, because it takes into account GDP and population through team selection. Based on team size, China would keep its position as number one. Iran would be placed second and Grenada highly placed – again – in third. South Africa would be in 33rd place – six places lower than its actual position.

Britain spent £264-million on its athletes in the four years leading up to the Olympics. By Wednesday it had spent £4.6-million (about ­R60-million) a medal. In contrast, the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee's allocation to Olympic athletes for the same period was a modest ­R22-million or R5.6-million each for the country's four medals.