Aug 13, 2012

‘War minus the shooting’: what the Olympic medal tally really tells us

The Games are over -- so what does the final medal count tell us about global reputation, power and prestige? Daryl Adair, associate professor of sport management at UTS Business School, crunches the numbers.

With the London 2012 Olympic Games now over, what does the all-important gold medal tally tell us about global reputation, power and prestige?

Every four years, the summer Olympic Games end in revelry, anxiety or despondency for countries around the globe as they suffer from gold fever. While it is regrettable that Olympic team performances seem to be under such microscopic scrutiny, with national pride too often overshadowed by patriotic excesses, the colour of medals and their accumulation (or otherwise) can shine some light on the “globalympic” quest for international prestige through sport.

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13 thoughts on “‘War minus the shooting’: what the Olympic medal tally really tells us

  1. muncher

    On a side note, I noticed that the US , when they were behind in the gold tally to China, ranked countries on total medals won, which surprisingly, showed the US on top.

  2. wamut

    Hmmm so this is an article about Olympic medal tallies that argues that we are being misled about the true nature of Olympic achievements by focussing unduly on Olympic medal tallies. *scratches head*

    I understand your point and agree with it too, but it might be nice to also just get out there and celebrate/promote the lesser recognised Olympic achievements: E.g. Gabon’s first ever medal (in Taekwondo). The Bahamas awesome defeat of the Americans in the 4x4oom men’s relay. Kirani James 400m win for Grenada (with a population of 110,000!). Iceland’s men’s handball team going through the preliminary round undefeated. Montenegro winning their first ever medal with a silver in women’s handball. East Timor’s two marathoners completing the course for the first time. Botswana’s first ever medal. Oksana Chusovitina competing in her sixth Olympics in gymnastics as a 37 year old mother.

    Also – factual nitpicking – I thought it was the St Louis games in 1904 where they first did the gold/silver/bronze thing.

  3. zut alors

    ‘…the luminosity of medals is claimed by countries as a symbolic measure of their international status, prowess and prestige…’

    The medal count also indicates the access to better diet and nutrition by the wealthy nations. In my opinion a nation’s status should be dependant on how smart its citizens are and their contribution to solving global problems (eg: pollution, disease, equitable food distribution, societal dysfunction etc).

    Olympic medals? Fools’ gold.

  4. Noodle Bar

    Maybe everyone should transfer all their defence spending to olympics funding. Or deploy members of the armed forces into various sports. Actually I’m not enchanted by the bloated expenditure in either sector.

  5. mattsui

    I reckon all the athletes should be forced to live on the sponsors’ products (Macca’s ‘n’ coke) for the durartion of the games. Chow down on a super-sized cow arse sandwich and a bucket of sweet fizzy water, then we’ll see how they run.

  6. Alan Davies

    Daryl. Great post. Do you have the total medal count by sex and country? Betsy Stevenson reckons US women did extraordinarily well, demonstrating the importance of Title IX.

  7. Scott

    US team – Women made up 50.7% of the team but won 56% of the medels.

    Australian women also performed well. They made up 45% of our team but won 57% of the Australan medals.

  8. wamut

    @Alan it was certainly the case in the sprinting which is traditionally a real strength for US athletes. American men only managed one gold – in the 110m hurdles – whereas their women won the 4×100, 4×400, 200m, 400m and the 400m hurdles. American men didn’t even win medals in the 200m, 400m or 400m hurdles. American women and men did equally well in the swimming however. Swimming and athletics is where America wins most of its medals.

    The final figures for USA:

    Men – 17 gold, 15 silver, 13 bronze
    Women – 29 gold, 14 silver, 15 bronze

    It’s may not terribly conclusive when you consider that some countries still send male dominated teams. Australian women also got more medals than the men:

    Men – 4 gold, 7 silver, 4 bronze
    Women – 3 gold, 9 silver, 8 bronze

  9. Hamis Hill

    How many medals did the denizens of Olympus win in these latest games?
    Did they give a damn about gold?
    The great speculation of the original games was that the gods would compete and sometimes be hard to distinguish from the mere mortals so god-like did these athletes performances appear.
    So now the gods of Olympus live in Washington or Beijing? Counting their gold?

  10. Scott

    I think with the 4th largest team at the olympics we should have done a lot better. On an athlete adjusted medal table (using linear regression to find the relationship between athlete numbers and total medals and then calculating the difference between predicted medals and actual), we were definitely the 4th most underperforming team, just beaten by Spain (worst), Poland and Canada.

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