Comparison of GDP Ranking Systems at the Olympics

Large countries such as the USA, USSR and more recently China, have dominated the medal tables. The thing these countries have in common is large resources, including a large gross domestic product (GDP), one the primary indicators used to gage the health of a country's economy, which can be used to develop Olympic medalists.

Just total medals won does not seem like a fair way of measuring success at the Olympics, a more reasonable way of ranking the performance of countries may be to compare the medal results to the GDP of the country. Below we use the 2008 medal table as an example to compare the different GDP ranking systems (using gold medals, total medals and weighted medal points). The GDP data is taken from the CIA World Fact Book, where GDP means $US million million of GDP (UK Billion). See also another demographic ranking system based on a nation's population, and the comparison of weighted points ranking systems.

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Zimbabwe is clearly the highest ranked nation here, no matter which of these ranking systems is used. The top three countries are the same whether the GDP is compared to total gold medals, total medals or a weighted medal count system. For Zimbabwe, it is not necessarily due to a great performance, but largely due to a very depressed GDP.

Gold medals per GDP

Rank Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
Medals
Gold medals
/Billion GDP
1 Zimbabwe 1 3 0 4 452.3
2 Jamaica 6 3 2 11 290.3
3 Mongolia 2 2 0 4 237.5
4 Georgia 3 0 3 6 146.3
5 Kenya 5 5 4 14 84.9
6 Ethiopia 4 1 2 7 64.3
7 North Korea 2 1 3 6 50.0
8 Cuba 2 11 11 24 39.1
9 Belarus 4 5 10 19 38.0
10 Estonia 1 1 0 2 34.1

Total medals per GDP

Rank Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
Medals
Total Medals
/Billion GDP
1 Zimbabwe 1 3 0 4 1809.1
2 Jamaica 6 3 2 11 532.2
3 Mongolia 2 2 0 4 475.1
4 Cuba 2 11 11 24 469.6
5 Armenia 0 0 6 6 349.8
6 Georgia 3 0 3 6 292.7
7 Bahamas 0 1 1 2 240.0
8 Kenya 5 5 4 14 237.8
9 Kyrgyzstan 0 1 1 2 192.7
10 Togo 0 0 1 1 192.0

Weighted medals per GDP

(using the Topend Sports weighted ranking system: Gold=6 Silver=2 Bronze=1 points)

Rank Country Gold Silver Bronze Weighted
Medal Count
Weighted Medals
/Billion GDP
1 Zimbabwe 1 3 0 12 5427.4
2 Jamaica 6 3 2 44 2128.7
3 Mongolia 2 2 0 16 1900.2
5 Georgia 3 0 3 21 1024.4
4 Cuba 2 11 11 45 880.5
6 Kenya 5 5 4 44 747.3
11 Ethiopia 4 1 2 28 450.2
10 North Korea 2 1 3 17 425.0
9 Belarus 4 5 10 44 418.3
7 Bahamas 0 1 1 3 360.1

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