on the Gold Medal tally

I must be a bit thick. I can’t make out this article on “The Real Olympic Medal Tally”.

They have a couple of really helpful tables giving the tally adjusted for population and GDP:

Where I feel that I am missing the point is in the “citizens per medal” category. How does this differ from “medals per population” category, and how does it give such a different result? For instance, the article claims that

When we calculate how many citizens it takes to earn a gold medal, Australia rockets to the top of the standings. It’s beyond doubt: Australia converts citizens into gold medals more efficiently than any other nation in the top ten. And into that list you can add New Zealand, which takes 4,173,460 citizens to produce one gold medal. That makes Australia roughly three times more efficient at converting citizens into gold medals than our cross-Tasman rivals, and more than twice as efficient as the Brits.

But 4,173,460 is the population of New Zealand – give or take a few thousand non-naturalised residents. What do they mean that it takes “4,173,460 citizens to produce one gold medal” – didn’t New Zealand get three gold medals? What sort of maths are they using here at Crickey? And then why, if New Zealand got 1 medal per 4,173,460 citizens, didn’t it get included in the second table above in fourth place?

I’m confused.

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0 Responses to on the Gold Medal tally

  1. Peregrinus says:

    The second table, citizens per gold, takes the top ten countries in terms of absolute numbers of gold medals won, but reorders them by citizens per gold medal, rather than absolute numbers of gold medals. In other words, of the countries that win a fair swag of golds, Australia has more golds relative to its population than any other.

    But, by an amazing coincidence, Australia has – by a long shot – the smallest population of any of the ten countries selected for this particular comparison. So what this table really says is that we are, by a good measure, the least populous country that can climb into the top ten in terms of absolute numbers of medals won.

    How do we do it? Well, there is one other country with a small population whicb, in former times, would always have ranked in the top ten. I refer, of course, to East Germany, which never won a single gold medal until 1968 – too busy constructing the workers’ paradise, you know – but over the next twenty years won an amazing 192 gold medals until history overtook it after the 1988 Olympics.

    How did they do this? Well, anabolic steroids had a certain amount to do with it, as we now know. But it was more than that. Reckoning, for some reason, that national prestige was at stake they threw enormous resources at elite athletes – lavish public funding for acadamies, training, coaching, talent-spotting, development, the works. Sound at all familiar? What do you suppose the AIS was modelled on?

    So what this statistic really says is not that we are amazingly talented at sport, but that we are willing as a nation to throw enormous sums at maximising the talent that we do have. Like I said, it’s all a question of priorities.

  2. Schütz says:

    Thanks for making some sense of that for me, Perry. Thus, of the top ten gold medal winners, we are the most efficient. New Zealand didn’t get into the top ten, therefore they don’t get into the table. It was probably confusing for him to switch terms from “population” to “citizens”.

    There is still a mistake regarding the NZers, of course, in his claim that we are “three times more efficient at converting citizens into gold medals than our cross-Tasman rivals”.

  3. Peregrinus says:

    Yes. He’s simply reading his figure out of the wrong column. He’s quoted the total population figure, instead of the population/gold medal figure. If the had correct figure is used, NZ outperforms AUS.

  4. Ttony says:


    you are going to have to let go. Inventing new ways of doing the sums to prove that Australia “beat” the UK is, well, a bit, you know … just accept that for once the UK won! :-)

  5. Schütz says:

    We get our chance again in four years, Tony – as do you!

    And why are the Yanks so quiet about the Games? Don’t they care that they came in at second place?

    I haven’t heard peep out of them about their champions.

  6. Peregrinus says:

    Then you’re looking at the wrong media.

    And whaddaya mean, second place? If you’d been looking at the right media, you’d know that the only table that matters – indeed, the only table whose existence need be acknowledged at all – is the total medals table in which, as luck would have it, the US comes first, with a resounding 110 medals to China’s pathetic, derisory 100 medals.

    (The Aussies come fifth on that table, incidentally, instead of sixth. But still behind the Brits, by one medal.)

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