Olympic Games and development: How many medals to win?

The evidence of Olympic forum shows that the statistically significant factors that explain the number of medals won by a country are: 1) population and income per capita; 2) performance in previous games; and 3) the condition of local. Estimates before the Olympics awarded 106 total medals to the United States, 89 to China, 59 to Great Britain, 58 to Russia and 46 to Germany.

In general, the best indicator to predict the number of medals in a country is the gross domestic product (GDP). The greater the population and income, the greater the number of medals are. In fact, the first 30 countries in the table of the last Olympic Games concentrated 80% of the medals, basically replicating what is observed in the economic. The 30 richest countries accumulate 80% of the world’s wealth.

Assuming that talent is evenly distributed across countries, a larger population offers a broader base from which to choose athletes. But, to train athletes, economic resources are needed that translate into organizational skills, infrastructure and qualified human resources. Countries with higher income would have more individuals with more time to play sports and more organizations promoting their practice.

Different paths to success

  • Seeing this panorama, it is not surprising that the possibilities of winning a medal were scarce. However, for small countries, GDP is not necessarily the destination.
  • What the previous model does not capture is the relative importance given to the sport in the culture and politics of each country, which is materialized in financing (public or private), overcrowding and exposure.
  • Kenya, Ethiopia and, above all, Jamaica are examples of small nations that have proven to be very efficient in translating their economic wealth into medals, beyond what their GDP predicts. Jamaica has barely a third of the GDP of Costa Rica, but for these Olympics took a delegation five times larger than the national, concentrated practically in a single sport (56 athletes in athletics).
  • In London 2012, he won 12 medals, including 4 gold and a similar number is expected in Rio. Jamaica opted for specialization in one of the disciplines that gives more medals and where historically and culturally it has a great affinity.
  • On the other hand, Britain’s performance is one of the most successful in the recent history of the Olympic Games. Britain went from winning 15 medals at Atlanta 1996 to 65 at London 2012, thanks in part to the financing of the British lottery.
  • In the four-year period 2013-2017, they expected to invest $ 700 million, with annual expenditures between $ 46,000 and $ 85,000 per athlete.
  • Programs in Great Britain have specialized in sports that deliver the most medals possible: track cycling, rowing, swimming and athletics.

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