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The Best Summer Olympic Games Country

Table of contents

Briefly

This is a study how the numbers of the summer olympic medals per capita per country have progressed during 1896–2016.

Article history

  • 2021-09-22 Checked grammar.
  • 2019-10-03 Text is published.
  • 2019-09-22 Writing is started.
  • 2019-08-03 Idea.

Motivation

While reading the list of Finnish achievements as a nation (reference), one of them made me amazed: Finland has the most summer olympic medals per capita (reference). The achievement is a great example of what a small but strong nation can reach.

Claims of Finland being the best always seems to be based on the numbers of today's populations but shouldn't the calculations base on the population of the time when the medals were actually won? Yes they should.

Data

First we need input data. The medals and population data is obvious but there are also some political issues because the borders of countries have been moved. For example, does modern day Finland own the medals won by Finnish people before 1917 when the country declared independence? Or does modern day Russia own the medals won by Estonians during the existence of Soviet Union?

The sources used:

  • Number of medals per country: Wikipedia (English)
  • Political line of which countries own which medals: Appendix A.
  • Population of each country in olympic years: Medals Per Capita (reference)
  • World population in olympic years: worldometers (reference)

Appendix A:

  • Medals of Australasia included in Australia (1908–1912)
  • Medals of Bohemia included in Czechoslovakia (1900–1912)
  • Medals of Finland (Russia) included in Finland (1908–1912)
  • Medals of Ceylon included in Sri Lanka (1948–1972)
  • Medals of Nazi Germany included in Germany (1936)
  • Medals of East Germany included in Germany (1968–1988)
  • Medals of Russian Empire included in Russia (1908–1912)
  • Medals of Soviet Union included in Russia (1952–1988)
  • Medals of Chinese Taipei included in Taiwan (1960–2016)
  • Medals won under Olympic Flag included in the countries where the participants were from (1980)
  • Medals of Unified Team included in Russia (1992)

Method

After having input data we need a method to find information out of it. The steps are:

  1. Create a spreadsheet.
  2. Fill in the input data (reference).
  3. Choose an algorithm to weight the number of medals by relative population[1].
  4. Do the math.
  5. Plot the values.

[1] The chosen algorithm as an example: United States got 20 medals in 1896 Olympic games and their population was 4.49 % of the world population in that year (72 million / 1,600 million = 4.49 %) which gives them 20 / 0.0449 = 445 medal points. So the more medals and the less people, the better.

Result

The most summer olympic medals per capita (1896-2016):

#     Country            Medal points
-------------------------------------
1.    Bahamas                 295 284
2.    Finland                 196 963
3.    Hungary                 193 686
4.    Sweden                  192 534
5.    Jamaica                 184 158
6.    New Zealand             175 443
7.    Australia               157 278
8.    Denmark                 154 242
9.    Norway                  139 902
10.   Grenada                 134 172
...

Data updated: 2019-09-22

Analysis

Surprisingly Finland is not leading the competition anymore when the comparison is done in more accurate manner. Bahamas is the first one–overwhelmingly. A few questions arise.

First, how is this possible? Finland isn't the number one? Yep, it's true and it's because the population of Finland has not increased as much as the rest of the world since 1896. So if we use only the population numbers of today, it benefits Finland because nowadays the nation is smaller compared to the world population than it was when Finland won most of the medals.

Second, what is Bahamas and how they can beat Finland? In total Bahamas have won 14 medals in nine olympic games while their population has been 270,000 in average in the olympic years. Finland has won 303 medals in 25 olympic games while the average population has been 4,410,000. Bahamas is a small archipelagic country in the Caribbean and they are good in short distance running.

Bahamas and Finland are very different sized countries but to be honest, countries like India and Vatican are even more different.

Perhaps it's more reasonable to compare countries of same scale? Let's choose three different divisions such as small including countries of 3.7 million people at maximum (average population under 0.1 % of the world population), medium including countries of 3.7-37 million people (0.1-1 %) and large including countries of over 37 million people (over 1 %).

Large countries

The most summer olympic medals per capita in large countries (1896-2016):

#     Country            Medal points
-------------------------------------
1.    Germany                 101 081
2.    Great Britain            59 072
3.    France                   42 040
4.    United States            48 084
5.    Italy                    44 537
6.    Russia                   39 594
7.    South Korea              34 888
8.    Japan                    18 671
9.    Ukraine                  16 699
10.   Turkey                    9 112
...

Data updated: 2019-09-22

Medium countries

The most summer olympic medals per capita in medium countries (1896-2016):

#     Country            Medal points
-------------------------------------
1.    Finland                 196 963
2.    Hungary                 193 686
3.    Sweden                  192 534
4.    Australia               157 278
5.    Denmark                 154 242
6.    Norway                  139 902
7.    Cuba                    126 436
8.    Bulgaria                124 576
9.    Switzerland             111 980
10.   Netherlands              94 272
...

Data updated: 2019-09-22

Small countries

The most summer olympic medals per capita in small countries (1896-2016):

#     Country            Medal points
-------------------------------------
1.    Bahamas                 295 284
2.    Jamaica                 184 158
3.    New Zealand             175 443
4.    Grenada                 134 172
5.    Estonia                  96 071
6.    Trinidad and Tobaco      88 989
7.    Iceland                  78 832
8.    Bermuda                  78 095
9.    Slovenia                 75 402
10.   Mongolia                 68 031
...

Data updated: 2019-09-22

Conclusion

This is big news. Finland is not currently the best summer olympic games country. We need to annex Bahamas and its medals. Send out the hornets!