Most Successful Countries of All-Time - per GDP (2016 UDATE)

Here are tables of the top ranked countries based on all-time medals won relative to the nation's gross domestic product (GDP, one the primary indicators used to gage the health of a country's economy). Using GDP data to rank success of nations at the Olympic Games is an alternative to the popular listing based on total gold medals won. See the complete list, and also a discussion of ranking systems. We have also calculated the per GDP medals for the 2008 Olympic Games results, and calculated lists based on medals per capita.

A country may rank high on these tables either due to a great medal result, or a poor GDP. Countries with a very low current GDP, such as Grenada, The Bahamas and Tonga, do not require many medals to rank highly.

Top Nations: Gold Medals Relative to GDP

The country with the most gold medals relative to their GDP is Jamaica., which has leapt above Grenada after a successful 2016 Olympics. Grenada is on this list thanks to runner Kirani James won the Men's 400 meters in 2012. Compare this to a country with a high GDP. Third on the list, and not far behind in relative terms, is Hungary with both a high number of gold medals and a relatively healthy GDP.

Table: Top ranked teams based on gold medals per GDP

Rank Country Total Gold Medals GDP gold/GDP
1 Jamaica 23 24.6 0.93
2 Grenada 1 1.4 0.72
3 Hungary 175 257.0 0.68
4 Bahamas 6 9.2 0.65
5 Cuba 77 128.5 0.60
6 Finland 101 224.7 0.45
7 North Korea 16 40.0 0.40
8 Bulgaria 51 132.6 0.38
9 Sweden 147 467.4 0.31
10 New Zealand 46 166.0 0.28

Top Nations: Total Medals Relative to GDP

Jamaica leads this list of nations who are highly successful at the Olympics relative to their GDP. In second and third place on this table are two contrasting nations. Tonga with one medal, and a tiny GDP, has a very similar medal per GDP score to Hungary, which has both a large medal total and GDP.

Table: Top ranked teams based on total medals per GDP

Rank Country Total no. of medals GDP Total Medals/GDP
1 Jamaica 78 24.6 3.17
2 Tonga 1 0.5 1.91
3 Hungary 491 257.0 1.91
4 Cuba 220 128.5 1.71
5 Bulgaria 214 132.6 1.61
6 Bahamas 14 9.2 1.52
7 Grenada 2 1.4 1.44
8 North Korea 54 40.0 1.35
9 Finland 303 224.7 1.35
10 Sweden 494 467.4 1.06

Top Nations: Average Gold Medals Relative to GDP

As pointed out by many readers, the tables above may not best represent per GDP medals. The data does not account for the number of appearances of each country. For example, it is not fair to compare the total medal count of the UK who have appeared at all Olympic Games with China, who have appeared only 10 times. A better analysis would be to base the analysis on the average number of medals won per appearance, not on the total medal count.

Table: Top ranked teams based on average gold medals per GDP

A new addition to this list after the 2016 Olympic is Kosovo, who won gold in their first appearance as an independent nation.

Rank Team  appearances gold medals golds per olympiad GDP ave golds/gdp
1 Grenada 9 1 0.1 1.4 0.08
2 Kosovo 1 1 1.0 17.6 0.06
3 Jamaica 17 23 1.4 24.6 0.05
4 Bahamas 16 6 0.4 9.2 0.04
5 North Korea 10 16 1.6 40.0 0.04
6 Georgia 6 8 1.3 35.4 0.04
7 Cuba 20 77 3.9 128.5 0.03
8 Hungary 26 175 6.7 257.0 0.03
9 Burundi 6 1 0.2 7.9 0.02
10 Estonia 12 9 0.8 37.9 0.02

Top Nations: Average Total Medals Relative to GDP

After crunching the numbers with average medals per appearance, rather than total medals, the results are quite different to those above. Tonga leads from Jamaica based on a smaller GDP and number of appearances, despite Jamaica winning many more medals.

Table: Top ranked teams based on average medals per GDP

Rank Team  appearances Total total medals / Olympics GDP ave total/gdp
1 Tonga 9 1 0.1 0.523 0.21
2 Jamaica 17 78 4.6 24.6 0.19
3 Grenada 9 2 0.2 1.385 0.16
4 Georgia 6 32 5.3 35.37 0.15
5 North Korea 10 54 5.4 40 0.14
6 Armenia 6 16 2.7 25.22 0.11
7 Bahamas 16 14 0.9 9.231 0.09
8 Cuba 20 220 11.0 128.5 0.09
9 Belarus 6 85 14.2 168.2 0.08
10 Bulgaria 20 214 10.7 132.6 0.08

Table Notes:

The GDP data is sourced from the Wikipedia page: List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP), using GDP Data from the CIA World Factbook (1993–2015). These calculations assume (probably wrongly) that the GDP data has been relatively the same throughout Olympic history.

The data includes all medals won at the summer Olympic Games (including 2016). The original medal list source: Wikipedia, retrieved Aug 2016.

There are quite a few countries/teams that no longer exist that have won medals in the past. The following teams have not been included in this analysis due to no current GDP data; Soviet Union, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Unified Team, Yugoslavia, Mixed team, Australasia, Russian Empire, Serbia and Montenegro, Bohemia, Independent Olympic Participants, British West Indies.

Related Pages