Who Won the 2016 Olympics

When I was younger, I remember asking (maybe not out loud, but at least introspectively) who was the best team at the Olympic Games. Of course, the Olympics is supposed to be more of a feel-good, everyone-wins-something kind of event, and doesn't have a true structure for an actual winner, but we subconsciously want that. You know it's true.

Every sports page in the newspaper and online seems to show the top three nations, along with Canada, sorted by their total medal count, and we seem to be happy with that. But what about the fact that the several nations have over 100 athletes while many nations have less than 10% of that? And don't forget that nations with more money and resources can probably train better athletes! I thought we could do better, and these are my suggestions.

Weighted medal scoring

First of all, a bronze medal shouldn't be worth the same as a gold. After weighing a few methods, I decided on giving gold a score of four; silver, two; and bronze, one. This didn't change the results much, but it gives a good framework for my other two methods.

This could further be distilled by just counting first-place wins, but I decided to not go that far.

Per athlete

My first real scoring system is to take each nation's weighted medal score, and divide it by the number of athletes. This way, a team that of ten members that wins two golds gets an equal score to the team of 20 which won one.

This is similar to how, in many high school sports, schools are grouped based on their sizes, as having a student body of 2,500 gives many advantages over the school of 300.

Lastly, for ease of comparison, I normalised the scores to be nicer round numbers.

Per GDP/capita

When I first had the idea to come up with a way to see who actually won the Hunger Olympic Games, my boss suggested this method. I took each weighted medal score, and divided it by the nation's normalised gross domestic product, which in turn is divided by the nation's population.

Here's a table of the top three in each different scoring methods, colour-coded for the top three by each method:

Nation Medals WMS WMS/athletes WMS/GDP/capita
USA 121 121 52 25
CHN 70 68 39 97
TJK 1 2 56 16
GBR 67 70 46 18
KEN 13 16 41 121
ETH 13 6 38 105
PRK 7 7 45 103
AZE 18 12 49 16

By this, we see that the USA is the best when it comes to medal count, both weighted and standard, but only second place when their number of athletes is taken in to account. Because Tajikistan only had 7 athletes, they get first here. With Kenya, Ethiopia, and Democratic People's Republic of Korea not having as much of a GDP, it makes sense that they'd be the winners by that method.

Neither of my methods really answered the question for me, but I feel like it does give an idea of which nations did some outstanding work. One thing I noticed while putting the table together is that for the athlete-count version, this doesn't take the fact that an athlete can compete in more than one event, and athletes in team events, in to account.

If you want more analysis of the numbers from the Olympics, check out Andy Barefoot's charts, especially the Golds Awarded one.

And now I'll stop talking about sportsball.