2021 UPDATE: Bermuda, population 62,000, won its first-ever gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, placing it 4th on the all-time gold medals per-capita list. Also in 2021, tiny San Marino with a population of fewer than 34,000 won three minor medals, making them the least populous nation to ever take home an Olympic medal.
Generally, the most successful countries in terms of Olympic medals won are also some of the biggest countries in terms of population. This may seem unfair when comparing the success of countries, as the bigger countries have a larger population pool from which to develop athletes. Using per capita data to rank the success of nations at the Olympic Games is an alternative to the popular way of ranking based on just total gold medals won.
Below are tables of the top countries based on the total all-time medals won during the Summer Olympics (including Tokyo 2020 data), ranked relative to the nation's population (latest UN figures from 2019).
Small Island Nations Are The Best
Before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Finland was the leading country for medals won per population, but the recent success of the small nations of Bermuda, Bahamas and San Marino has upended the lists. The two tables below show the ranking based on (1) gold medals won, and (2) total medals won.
Table: Top ranked teams based on GOLD MEDALS per million population
Atop the list is the Caribbean island country The Bahamas, with their eight gold medals from sailing and athletics (two added in Tokyo 2020), and with a current population of fewer than 400,000 people. For even smaller countries like Bermuda and Grenada, a single gold medal is enough to get them into the top ten.
|rank||Country||Gold||est. population||total gold
Table: Top ranked teams based on TOTAL MEDALS per million population
Tiny San Marino has yet to win a gold medal, though their three medals in Tokyo has shot them to the top of the list of total medals per capita.
|rank||Country||Total Medals||est. population||total medals
The Caribbean is the place to be
As pointed out in several intelligent comments about the above results, I have come to realize that the figures above may not best represent per capita 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 has appeared at all 28 Olympic Games with China, who has appeared only 10 times. A better analysis would be to base the analysis on the average number of medals won per attendance, not on the total medal count. After crunching the numbers after the 2021 Olympics, there are a few significant differences to the lists above.
Table: Top ranked teams based on AVERAGE GOLD MEDALS per million population
Small island nations top this list. The Bahamas added two gold medals to their tally in 2021, while Bermuda won their first-ever Olympic gold medal at their 19th appearance at the Games, when Flora Duffy won the women's triathlon. The small nation of Grenada won its first medal, a gold, at the 2012 Olympics, in its eighth appearance at the Games.
We have listed only currently competing countries. If included, the East Germans would be the top ranked per capita medal winning country based on average medal counts, having produced a large number of gold medals relative to its population in its five appearances at the Olympics between 1968-1988. East Germans won 153 gold medals in five Olympic Games and with an estimated population of 16.1 million at the time, the average gold medals per million population would be 1.90. There is no doubt that the East Germans had some talented athletes and a very well organized sports development program, though it is now known that systematic doping took place which would account an unfair boost in their medal count. Also considering it is no longer in existence as such, I am happy to ignore the East German results, which leave The Bahamas as the most successful country per capita.
|rank||Country||No. Olympics||Gold||est. population||Ave No. Golds||Ave Gold
Table: Top ranked teams based on AVERAGE TOTAL MEDALS per million population
Bahamas jumped up to top this list after the 2016 Olympics but five years later, even with a few more medals, they are down the list. After the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the tiny nation of San Marino has jumped to the top thanks to three medals in their 15th appearance at the Games.
San Marino would even beat the mighty East German team if they were included, with 409 total medals in five Olympic Games and an estimated population of 16.1 million, average medals per million population for East Germany would be 5.08.
|rank||Country||No. Olymp.||total medals||est. population||Ave Total Medals||Ave Medals
- The data includes all medals won at the summer Olympic Games (including Tokyo 2021). The original medal list source: Wikipedia.
- The population data was extracted from the Wikipedia page: List_of_countries_by_population, which contained the most recently known population data.
Of course there are also some other issues with the current analysis. In most cases the most current population data is used for analysis here, even though many of the medals were won during earlier Olympics were the population would have been lower. The assumption is that the relative populations between countries is similar over time, but this is probably not always the case. This analysis also assumes an even distribution of medals over time, which is also not correct. Finland may historically be a good performing country per capita, but they have not been successful as they have been in the past.
- Calculated lists based on medals per GDP.
- The complete medal list and population data
- 2018 Winter Olympic Games medal table per capita
- Medals per Country Size — comparing medals with country size (both size and population)
- A discussion of different ranking systems.
- medal tables from all Olympic Games
- About Olympic Medals
Commenting is closed on this page, though you can read some previous comments below which may answer some of your questions.
- I can't think of any real occasions where kiwi's have cheated. Britten motor bike technology was miles ahead of the others, but being clever isn't cheating. Using aerodynamic pods in the 1984 Olympics in Kayaking was deemed illegal, but the kiwis won 3 or 4 kayak golds without them anyway. Not sure what we cheated in to get almost as many golds as Aus at the London Olympics. Don't think we cheated when we won the Softball world champs back from Aus last year. Rowing and track cycling also going very well, without drugs (unlike some Aussy league teams). Couldn't help but bite back!! Taylorkavanagh (2014)
- Is NZ still a country or finally & officially a territory of Australia ? Big mistake on Australia's part. Mick Scott Taylorkavanagh (2015)
- Australia still is a crown colony of Great Britain and the queen, not even an independent country right? Kew Mick Scott (2017)
- and still we cant keep the Kiwi`s and everybody else out. Mick Scott kew (2017)
- The last thing the people of Straya would want is for NZ to be part of your struggling country. Let's face it.. we would end up taking it over via "hard work" running it properly and kick all the whinning/moaning aussies into the desert and then build a big fence. It's also the last thing Kiwis want because your our big sisters and we respect you from time to time. Steve Ward Mick Scott (2016)
- Shut up I'm from New Zealand, where are u from so I can say you ment to be another country. Also you must be the thickest person to live, look at a map, and do some study on the world. Unknown Mick Scott (2016)
- Australia is a country? Thehawkreturns Mick Scott (2016)
- Hungary also have much less population before 70's, and especially before 2nd WW. (around 7,5-8 million). But if you see the exact numbers, you can find that Hungary continuously was on the top, which means always was in the best 10-12 after Olympics, as now: if you see the final medal table after London2012, you clearly find that who is the first really small country in the top of the table: the 9th Hungary (Between 60 millions Italy(8.) and 23 millions Australia (10.). Another is that Hungary wins major of its golds in water games (swimming, canoe, water polo etc.) even they don't have see, it's a continental country. Third is that a comment said earlier that perhaps the Scandinavians are the best sportsmen because these countries over the top. If you see postilion of Hungary, they are alone: no any neighbor country have same performance. It's funny joke, that "have here or there something in the water", here really have but I don't think, that water can win any gold medal: the people doing this, continuously from 1896 to 2012. Nice tradition! Balazs Sandor (2015)
- The reason large countries do worse in Medals Per Capita is because, after a certain point, say a population of about 40-50 million, having more people doesn't really create better athletes. You just get repetition of ranges of athletic ability, and the law of diminishing returns kicks in. A country as large as China could be smaller or larger by several hundred million people, and the number of medals won would hardly be affected. U2u2u2 (2016)
- It would also be worth considering the number of people in a country physically able to compete. Many poorer African countries have high populations, but equally high incidents of poverty, hunger and disease. It is hardly fair to compare these countries with countries like Finland and Hungary which have a comparatively able population. The lack of funding in many developing countries (owing to more pressing problems like widespread starvation) should also be considered. Steve (2015)
- The Soumi & Magyar are @ the top NO MATTER how you slice it - Hmmmm! Dhorvath57 (2014)
- Suomi, Magyars (Hungarians) and Estonians rule the top >> Finno-ugristic phenomenon? Tibi dhorvath57 (2014)
- What is interesting is that the countries with genetic populations that have been relatively isolated in Europe for extended periods of time are leading the list by huge statistical margins. Gene Doc tibi (2015)
- Their are only two genetic populations that have been relative immobile geographically and genetically isolated since before the 10th century: the Scandinavian Population(now Sweden, Finland, Norway) and the Magyar populations (original Kingdom of Hungary that occupied the Carpathian Basin of Europe now: Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine,Bosnia/Herzegovina).
- Both genetic population survived genetically isolated for ~1000+ years (pre-9th century to early 1900s) and where best well know as raiders/mercenaries for over 1,000 years.
- They also distinguish themselves from other "warrior populations" in that they largely operated during the Iron Age in Europe, and lived/died/reproduced based on strength, stamina, and hand eye coordination needed to handle the weapons/horses used in Iron Age Warfare.
- Most other pure genetically isolated "warrior populations" were using Stone Age weapons that require more brut strength but less coordination to use effectively.
- Ricardo Gene Doc (2016)
Your genetic evaluation is completely wrong and not to mention completely ignorant since the most isolated European nations in the past were Sardinia and Basque.
my suggestion pick up a book and start reading
- Mick Taylor (from the Top End) (2013)
But NZ cheats, so their records don't count. They've been doing it ever since they used wide combs to beat the Australians at shearing and let's not forget the 2011 Rugby World Cup where France were totally ripped off. Then again they got their come uppance in the last America's Cup. It took an Aussie (how bad was it that he had to sail for the US?) to pull back defeat from the jaws of victory. No wonder they breed so many sheep because they all bleat! Ha Ha Ha Balanced people though. Chips on both shoulders.
- Elijah Macs Mick Taylor (from the Top End) (2014)
juding from your sour comments, aussie have the biggest chip on thier shoulders
- Alan Dempsey Mick Taylor (from the Top End) (2016)
Aussies are bad loosers, and atrocious winners. The latter of which to be fair, they lack experience. So they've got an excuse. And they're good at excuses, I'll give them that. I guess they've had a lot of practice.
- William Rangi Mick Taylor (from the Top End) (2015)
Kind of answer you'd expect from an Aussie. Carry on with the way your going and you'll get every thing you deserve you sad sad excuse for a alien he..he..he.. lol
- SuperbFlab (2016)
I'm late to this but I think only considering population is misleading. Successful countries with huge populations will never look as good as these countries mostly because there's a finite amount of medals to be won. For example, the Olympics has 302 total medals or thereabouts I believe. Even a country like the USA wins most if not all the medals, it wouldn't matter because of its 320 million population. I prefer to use size of contingent and total medals available. I think this is more reflective. You'll never convince me the countries in this (a country with one medal but a small population doesn't prove much) list are *more athletic* than the United States. Or the UK, Germany, Russia, France, Italy or Australia (all with large populations (or medium in the case of Aus.) who get hurt by this method in my view). Greetings from Canada.
- James Dominguez II SuperbFlab (2017)
"You'll never convince me..." It's really discouraging to know that anyone could honestly utter those words. It's an unacceptable perspective, no matter what the subject matter.
- SuperbFlab James Dominguez II (2017)
Oh, spare your concern troll. It's a light subject matter and a figure of speech. Of course, I'm open. Now go ahead and offer one. I'm fully aware I could be wrong. Lord me, chill.
- Khaos Cualdawath SuperbFlab (2016)
You kindly forget the level of health and obesity that renders X amounts of the populace unable to pursue sports carrier and advance competivity to even higher levels, and also seem to forget that modern sports need exhausting amounts of resources to just keep them afloat, not even talking about healthy growth and education of new generations. So in the end if you are actually wanting to look at a whole picture, the smaller the country by capita, the larger the feat while producing medals in such an event...
- Fred Khaos Cualdawath (2016)
There is a problem here with just counting the medals. A country like the US having two or more competitors in the same race is a bit outlandish. There must be a system established to identify countries that have beat the odds to win gold. If you want to identify winners by countries. During the 2010 Winter Olympics, Canada won the most gold. However, all US internet locations boasted they came first for the most medals. ???? Doesn't so well for the US, or China or any other country. And it really doesn't reflect the overall health of the citizen of that country.
- SuperbFlab Khaos Cualdawath (2016)
Now you're just expanding the criteria possibly needlessly. Obesity rates are near impossible to come to any uniform standard; plus it disregards of that subset would any of those people be athletes. It's basically a moot or inconsequential point since it's all probably all discounted anyway. I do not understand your final point as it correlates to your first assertion. I see little or no connection if I read it correctly. What would be helpful is, and this may strengthen your point and perhaps impact my original argument, is what do countries spend on amateur programs (I've struggled to find reliable any statistics on this). In fact, this may be a more useful criteria than a vague term like 'health' and obesity. Cheers!
- Robert Ikanov (2020)
Finland in summer games?? Lol, you seem confused a little bit with winter games, I guess
- Rob Admin Robert Ikanov (2020)
You would be surprised, Finland have been very successful in the past SUmmer Olympics, particularly in track and field events. Check out Paavo Nurmi who won 9 gold medals himself.
- UnfortunateTruth (2014)
You should take out the the data for the Winter Olympics. The Greeks did not have ski races. These games should not count since most all winter sport athletes are not elite level athletes as measured by any empirical levels of strength (Olympic lifts, vert,40m time, etc.) or vascular fitness (VO2 Max). Look at American Sean White, circus acts are not sport. Then you have a very clear winner. Hungary.
- Bob Newb UnfortunateTruth (2016)
rhythmic gymnastics is a joke, as is anything that requires 'artistic' or 'creativity'.
Purge olympics of anything that cannot be timed or counted (ie anything that cant be faked with biased judges).
- UnfortunateTruth (2014)
These are fake counties that where created by socialists just the last 100 years. These were all once part of the Kingdom of Hungary 1,100 years prior:
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Add these medals to Hungary's total, since all these people are of Hungarian decent, subtract out the Winter Olympics, which is just the old Nordic Games, not the true Olympics and it is a very clear picture.
- Superswagg UnfortunateTruth (2015)
the human species originates from central africa, so all the medals from hungary should be added to kenya
- Ogi UnfortunateTruth (2014)
You sir, dont have a clue, what you are talking about.
- Jon Sipal UnfortunateTruth (2016)
I am probably too dense to grasp the answer to my question. I am an American that was born in the Czech Rep. My question is how come Slovakia, which of course was part of the now defunct Czechoslovakia, have a very similar language to the Czech's and yet are from the Hungarian decent?
- Sm8 UnfortunateTruth (2016)
Only Slovakia and the one you forgot Croatia was part of the Hungarian Kingdom in their entirety. The rest -besides Romania- took small chunks from Hungary in 1919, but saying they were once fully part of Hungarian crown is far fetched.
- Bob Newb sm8 (2016)
with two thirds of hungary carved off that is a lot of small chunks.... lol
- Sm8 Bob Newb (2016)
As you can see above I mentioned Slovakia and Croatia in their entirety and beside Romania which took a large chunk, Transylvania. The rest were taken by neighboring countries Austria, the Ukraine, and Serbia, hardly one third. But yes ALL together was two thirds.
- Natalie (2016)
From 1902 to today Sweden's population increased by about 4 million and Finland's population increased by just under 3 million. During that same time Australia's population increased by 18 million, so if you use 2012's population to calculate past Olympic medal wins then the data is skewed. A better way might be to calculate to the gold or medals per capita for each country at each Olympic game and then average these by the number of Olympics each has participated in.
- Rob Admin Natalie (2016)
I agree, it would be better though much more difficult and time consuming to find the population data for each year of the Olympics.
- Peter (2016)
Obviously your data is erroneous because you don't take into account winter Olympics in which countries with colder climates (snow/ice) will do better than, say, Grenada! Also, how much money does a country spent on training the athletes ... coaches and equipment are expensive too!
- Steve (2016)
How about another table showing the number of medals per number of athletes?
- Sean (2016)
As mentioned, there are a lot more textures to this statistic. There were early Olympics where a "combined" team were entered. If my memory serves me correctly the first two were just open to whoever could get there. Which is one of the reasons Scandinavia is over represented. Again, I think the early Olympics in Sweden and Antwerp were over represented by Scandinavian countries. Similarly, at the St Louis Olympics half the events had only US entrants etc. You could go on. You should only really use recent Olympics and exclude the show pony events like basketball, tennis etc. which shouldn't be there anyway and are only there to sell tickets.
- Emily (2016)
Surely, Australia would have to be no. 1, because they are the smartest, best looking awesomest people in the world. Incidentally also rather up themselves. Watching the commentary is embarrassing. In the words of one channel 9 commentator, when a swimmer got silver by one 100th of a second, ol' mate actually made a comment asking if it's even fair that they have to split the gold and silver, when the other guy pointed out that they wouldn't be complaining if the situation was reversed as in one swimmer's win in the 2008 Olympics. Australia is a beautiful place, with good people in general, but terrible sports people who cannot accept a defeat, and consistently count chickens before they hatch, only to whinge, make excuses, or abuse athletes who 'failed' by getting a silver. Pleeeeaaase!
- Peter Lohan Emily (2020)
"but terrible sports people who cannot accept a defeat". You've just described 99% of successful sports people.
- Istvan_from_hungary (2016)
I think, it's impossible to work out an absolutely objective method to compare the performance of countries on the Olympic Games. What is sure (not forgetting extremely high political efforts and doping): (1) Olympic successes express national traditions, and (2) mostly they have positive impact on the fame of a country. Of course, as a Hungarian, I'm happy and proud that a country with one of the lowest GDP in Europe has always been and, in spite of growing competition, is still among the best performing countries. And a technical remark: countries with too low (say, under 1 million), or too high population (say, exceeding 50 million) cannot be valued properly on a linear scale. One gold medal for Liechtenstein cannot be compensated by any big country. Perhaps a logarithmic function of medals would be less distorting. Anyway, be proud of your country's successes, if any, and don't be too despaired for failures. All nations on the world are equally talented in sports. Successes mostly depend on the sport policy of your politicians and a little bit on good luck.
- Drd (2016)
Some countries have a consistently high medal count per capita (Slovenia) but have only been in existence for a short period of time so the analysis skews against them. Consider adjusting for the length of time a country has been competing as an independent entity. The other alternative is to count medals from that region. The Slovene athletes were very successful when they were part of Yugoslavia - count the medals of the Yugoslav athletes that were from Slovenia in the historical slovene count.
- Hindrek Möls (2016)
Statistics gives hope to humanity.
In a healthy body is a healthy mind.
- Andrew (2015)
I think GDP is a very good way to get an fair indication. I also like the relative team size suggestion, but perhaps even more relevant would be a combination of both - % of national GDP spent on sending the team to the Games. This would be more meaningful than a simple "$ spent per medal" calculation (though this might also be interesting) as it might indicate the relative importance of success to a particular country , while at the same time allowing a country like the US with a massive GDP to climb back up the rankings a bit if their team selection is at least somewhere in the same ball-park in terms of "spare cash thrown at the event". Though I realise the intrinsic difficulties in locating such figures.
- John Wright (2015)
Ranking medals according to GDP can also be misleading as many of the athletes from poorer countries train in the US college system and thus receive all the assistance those programs provide.
- Steve (2015)
I have done a table showing the number of athletes per medal. but ONLY for these 2012 games in London. I don't have all the data necessary to do an all time table like that. It's interesting, but still not the complete answer. Botswana for example, is at the top of the list, but they only had 4 athletes there in London, and because they won one medal (Silver), they have 4 athletes sent per medal ... the lowest on the list. My table looks at the total medal count though, not just the Gold medals. My point is that there is no one way of definitively measuring the success of countries at Olympic Games. I wonder however, if maybe a formula could be found, that incorporates Poulation, number of athletes and GDP all in one. Perhaps athletes as a percentage of population? Minute percentages they would be though, of course. And somehow including GDP in the mix also. Any budding mathemetician or statistician out there that wants to try that?
- UnfortunateTruth (2014)
...Also if you consider a good 1/3 of Olympic athletes winning medals are of Hungarian decent in the first place, but would not know it because they are either raised in America or have been brainwashed by their socialist communist masters to think they represent some fake nation that was created in the last 100 years and ends with an "ia". Look at a map of Central Europe drawn before the 1900s and you will clearly see what group of people has a genetic predisposition to competing in athletics.
- Norbert (2015)
Finland? Hungary? Estonia? Adding Estonia's golds won during the Soviet times, the 3 most successful countries are these. I tell you a secret guys, these countries are Europe's largest non-Indo-European minority, the Uralic family. Pretty lucky guys, we are. Don't misunderstand, even though it looks like, it's not about genetics, because the mixing with other tribes in the past millenniums left almost invisible similarity in the DNA. It's just an interesting fact.
- Wade Laurence Sullivan (2014)
Kiwi's have always been harder than Aussies.. You call your selves diggers.. We are warriors
- Smileyfacechief Wade Laurence Sullivan (2014)
"Warriors" lol coming from a country that's not even considered on Australian levels when it comes to sports. Btw don't even try and mention the "all blacks" because rugby in Australia isn't really a popular sport. Australia is better than new Zealand in almost every area expect for rugby and shotput.
- The kiwi smileyfacechief (2015)
pfft bro we beat yous in rugby and league oh and basketball oh yea in cricket and softball. heck if we wanted to enter the ausie rules comp we would take that out as well. not to mention your ufc stars are mostly kiwis
- Gene Doc the kiwi (2015)
Australians are mostly descendants of English convicts that where relocated due to prison over crowding between 1788 and 1868.
- Though Australia is a large diverse country now, there is not a significant genetic difference between the majority of the Australians and natural citizens of the UK and their Olympic performance overtime is similar....Nothing special
- Ross manley Gene Doc (2016)
no true ... most Australian's ...pioneers, farmers, inventors, creators
were free settlers. Celts, Britons, Anglo Saxons .. They sailed for months to their destinations. Starting from nothing, then building one of the most advanced White Christian Nations Cultures on earth in less than 100 years. Suggestion ... do some research before spouting the tired convict line.
- DS1294 the kiwi (2015)
Australia have beaten NZ in Cricket (We have the Trophy to prove it), Basketball, Field Hockey, Soccer, Futsal and Rugby League (Again WC win). The logic that NZ is better through Domestic Leagues is flawed as there are Aussies and Internationals playing in those teams.
- DS1294 the kiwi (2015)
Actually the Australian National Team have beaten NZ in Basketball and Cricket (WC Final). The logic that NZ is better simply due to being top in the Domestic leagues in Soccer and Basketball are flawed as there are already Aussies and other nationalities playing in those teams so they don't count.
- Matt Kav DS1294 (2015)
New Zealand are outright best in the world in Rugby Union, Rugby Sevens, Rugby League (at the moment), Softball, Surf life Saving, Rowing, several sailing world champs, 2 kayaking world champs, top equestrian riders. Per capita we are best in the world in Hockey (mens and womens), Cricket, track cycling, world no1 women golfer, Scott Dixon - multiple indy car winner, current Le Mann 24 hr champs, World shotput champ Valerie adams.....bleat, bleat, bleat....and hard to beat.
- DJS94 Matt Kav (2016)
Best per capita in Field Hockey? lol NZ haven't even won anything in Field Hockey. Australia's Men have won the Field Hockey WC 3 times, Cricket WC 5 times, Rugby League WC 10 times, Union 2 times and 28 Davis Cup Titles. Australia's Women have won the Cricket WC 6 times, Field Hockey WC 2 times, 1 Basketball WC and 11 Netball WC. So now tell me, apart from Rugby is there any sport NZ really dominates Australia in?
Even Older Comments
- I am a Statistician so here is my view on many points raised. (from Taylor Kavanagh, NZ, Sept 2012)
1) the per-capita statistics above are highly erroneous as they only use 2 factors current population and total medals won. The current population has no relevance for many counties to the population that won medals at early Olympic Games.
2) Factors such as number of medals available at each Olympics and number of countries participating and their populations then have not been considered. It was much easier to win medals at the early Olympics as there were a lot of medals available and far less countries competing for them.
3) Team size is irrelevant. A country will qualify and send all athletes that they can. If a country of 10 million only qualifies 1 athlete and he wins a medal then the population of 10 million produced that 1 medal winner. A 100% success rate for that team is statistically meaningless.
4) Per-capita calculations do not favor small countries. If the USA, China, India, Russia etc were sufficiently dominant they should win all the medals between them and no small countries should win anything. If a small country wins a medal against the odds they deserve to be recognized as achieving highly per capita.
I am currently producing a spreadsheet that accounts for all relevant factors (population of each country at the date of each Olympics, number of countries represented and the total population represented at the Olympics, number of gold medals available. After completing the analysis on 13 of the Olympics so far the standings are as follows (for the number of times the allocated gold medals a country has won):
FINLAND = 13.14 times their allocated gold medal haul
NEW ZEALAND = 11.98 times their allocated gold medal haul
SWEDEN = 6.8 times their allocated gold medal haul
HUNGARY = 6.68 times their allocated gold medal haul
AUSTRALIA = 3.25 times their allocated gold medal haul
Based of more recent Olympic results, New Zealand is likely to take the top spot as in several recent Olympics Finland have won very few gold medals. However it is very clear that New Zealand and Finland are clearly the most consistent overachievers at the summer Olympics.
- Ayeah! HUNGARY IS SIMPLY THE BEST! Am sorry guys try harder :p (from Kati, 3 Sept 2012)
- Here's a point no one else has made.
Per capita is actually slightly biased against larger countries.
It seems fair but it isn't.
China is the most populous country, with 1,344 mill citizens. If any country with a population of less than 1/300th of china's = 4.5 million gets 1 gold medal, then to equal that country, china would need to get all the remaining 300 or so gold medals.
However, there are around 80 different states with a population of less than 4.5 million. If ANY of these states gets a gold medal, then China can NEVER be number one in the rankings per capita. Fair enough you say, because to get 1 gold with only 4.5million people is the same as China getting 300 golds with 1344 million people.
But look again. How many people actually had a shot to get the gold medal which beats China? ANYONE from ANY of the 80 states could have done it. It doesn't matter which country they come from so long as the total pop. size of the country is less than 4.5million.
But the total population inside all the 80 small countries is a lot more than 4.5 million. It's about 121 million.
Assume the 121 million only gets 1 gold medal between them.
So 79 small countries come last, but 1 small country that has the gold medal beats china (and probably every other sizeable country) ... Another way to refute 'per capita' is as follows:
Divide the 121 million people up into 121 million separate countries. Then every single time a person out of the 121 million gets a gold medal, china would need to get 1344000000 gold medals to break even with that 'country' .
(even though china's population is only about 11 times the 121 million, it has to get billions more medals to break even).
So the more small countries there are, the less fair the 'per capita' ranking is to larger countries. That is why Grenada comes top. It is nothing to do with Grenada per se. It could have been Tuvalu, Nauru, Vanuatu, Bahrain, Belize, Lesotho, St.Kitts, Bahamas, Solomon islands, Comoros, Lichtenstein, or any other small country.
add up all the people living in these countries and it becomes much more likely that at least ONE of those people will get a gold medal (and therefore send their country to the top of the rankings). (from Aaron, Aug 2012)
- The more athletes a nation sends to the games, the more medals can potentially be garnered. Since participation limits are not proportional to a nation's population, what is the point of counting medals per million population? Has anyone found a "medals per number of contestants" ranking table? This would be the ideal benchmark, but I haven't found the data analyzed in that way yet. (from Fred, 14 Aug 2012)
- New Zealand have won 6 golds for these games after the Eastern European drug cheat was disqualified. Where are the Scandinavian countries at these games? Must be something in the "water" (from Jonah Lomu, 14 Aug 2012)
- How about an analysis based on the countries in which each athlete raised. I'm not sure how you could gather the data to do this, but literally thousands of athletes are only able to compete due to the (often free) training they get in receive at American (for example) universities. I think of this particularly in track and field and basketball (conversely) Americans who travel to Europe to play soccer. (from ghoti, 13 Aug 2012)
- If you add up all the medals for Auszealand than they beat the rest of the world hands down and where is Finlands Rugby team? Just wait till sevens are in the Olympics. Gooooooo ANZAC!!!!! (from James Dure, Aug 2012)
- The results seem to show older established European countries rank higher than more recently developed countries like New Zealand and Australia, it would be interesting to see the results from say the last 50 years. Another point is that some of the smaller countries would have been heavily impacted around the two world wars, particularly New Zealand, whereas neutral countries were impacted less. (from Aaron, Aug 2012)
- NZ is consistently ahead of Australia. Does anything else matter? (from Raynz, Aug 2012)
- This is not accurate. Jamaica has a population of 2.7 million and has won 55 medals. Why is she not ranked in the top 10. (from Sonia, 11 Aug 2012)
- Reply: Jamaica is not far off the top 10. They have 55 medals in total, 15 gold. (ed.)
- Hungary is doing well in the capita table as on the normal ranking. 8 gold medals. Congratulation!!! (from Zsolt, Aug 2012)
- It would be interesting to split out the results between Summer and Winter. Typically the Scandinavians do very well in Winter while the Americans and Australians to better in Summer. Also, the rules of the games tend to benefit smaller countries -- US might well have gotten another overall medal in woman's gymnastics this year if their arguably strongest competitor who would have qualified easily in any other country hadn't been left out of the finals because 2 other Americans beat her in the prelims. While that is an extreme example, each country is limited in how many contestants they can send to each event and mishaps taking out top competitors are not that uncommon. (from Tom, 11 Aug 2012)
- U did great job bt i tink its not adviceable to determine the best Olympic team by population cos we can see small or larger country whom could win many medals of made them the best country per that year. So i suggest they should pick the best team from gold medals per that year of any country that perform excellent. Thanks. U re great wt ur analysis (from Awojobi kehinde, Aug 2012)
- I teach 8th grade math, and LOVE number crunching! Great stuff you've got here! I do similar things sometimes myself to prove points in sports debates, but have never actually created a page for any of it. Speaking as someone born in Germany, but now holding US citizenship and teaching in Texas, I must say I find it interesting that European countries absolutely dominate that list. What's even more interesting though is which European countries.
The countries normally associated as being powerhouses in football (soccer as it's called here in the USA) are noticeably absent from the top ranks. The likes of Germany, England, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Netherlands etc didn't make the list which leads me to believe that there's likely a higher proportion of young athletes in those nations pursuing football than other sports. Meanwhile, the European nations making the top flight of Olympic competition, as illustrated above, are punching bags on the European football (soccer) scene. Hence, youngsters in those countries are probably more likely to pursue other sports than they would in the strong footballing nations. Just conjecturing. (from Volkmar, 10 Aug 2012)
- In reply to Volkmar's conjecture, to be successful on the medals per capita table it helps to have a small population (a Communist Government probably also helped, especially in the case of the 3 most populous countries on the above list, East Germany, Hungary, and Bulgaria). Being European helped because it tended to mean you had been taking part for longer and with more support money from a wealthier economy. This will probably change as small independent Caribbean islands start to build up more sprint medals - the Bahamas are already there, and Grenada will top the table once you include 2012 medals (and provided you still leave out Liechtenstein's Winter medals). In contrast powerhouses in soccer, (arguably) the world's most popular team sport, unsurprisingly tend to have much larger populations, with the arguable exception of Portugal, and the difficult to explain exception of Uruguay. Another interesting exception is New Zealand, which is not European, has a small population, and makes it onto this table, yet also manages to be the world's Number 1 powerhouse in the team sport of Rugby Union, a position it has maintained for about a century (an incomplete explanation is that Rugby is not nearly as widely played as soccer). Tragi-comically this 'low population helps on this table' observation does nothing to explain why Finland does about 10 times better on this table than my own country (Ireland) despite Finland having the apparent disadvantage of a slightly larger population :( :( :( :) :) :) (from Theloh Slobus, 11 Aug 2012)
- Grenada now look set for the top end of the "average gold medals per million population" table based on this year's single gold medal alone (after competing at 8 Olympics, and, crucially, having a population of just 100,000 people, their score comes to about 1.25 gold medals per million people per Olympics). (from Paddy, 10 Aug 2012)
- Australia this year have 384 participants, and China only 384, Italy 288! I'm Australian, I am tired of the glory and money that this nation give away, (and I'm not the only one) free to children who never even appear in the vicinity of the Olympic Games. Money that can be use for the family, (usually single mother) that live literally in the street, and missing bed in the hospital, and lack of doctor. I'm tired of children become bully because schools give them away everything and do not even have any culture at all, a mass of ignorant bully children feed with the "hope" that one day they will win a gold medal and never happen. Many Australians should start to state fact and truth if we want a grown up nation, sport is fine if is in balance with the needed of the rest of the population. (from Tina, 10 Aug 2012)
- If you include Winter medals, then Liechtenstein (population 33,000 in the 2000 census, estimated at 36,000 by 2011) with 2 Gold, 2 Silver, and 5 Bronze, all in Alpine skiing, is by far the most successful Olympic nation with about 60 golds and about 270 medals per million people, making it about 50 times more successful than East Germany and about 100 times more successful than Finland, though almost nobody seems to know this. The BBC 2012 Commentary as they marched by in the opening ceremony was basically 'Liechtenstein have never won any medals in the Summer Olympics', which is arguably farcical ignorance from the official Olympic broadcaster (and seemingly almost everybody else) about what is in one sense the most successful Olympic country of all (even if nobody knows this, possibly because the self-declared Land Of The Free would perhaps prefer if nobody was too free to challenge its own claim to being the most successful Olympic country of all). Wikipedia's rules against 'original research' probably prevent me from publishing any of this on Wikipedia, though they perhaps don't prevent any other readers of this website from publishing it on Wikipedia, and quoting this website as their source. My own source is in theory Wikipedia's all-time Olympic Medals table, plus Wikipedia's articles on the population of various countries - though my real source is mostly my memory of watching on TV as a young woman representing Liechtenstein won those two golds in under a week back in the 1970s. (from Theloh Slobus, 10 Aug 2012)
- It would be more interesting to see the statistics only from 1992 onward, too many countries appeared and disappeared before that. Not to mention the drastically different amount of medals available. The average number of gold medals per summer Olympics is about 173 and we have 300+ this year. (from Harri, Aug 2012)
- In order to match East Germany in average medals per capita, China would have had to win over 20000 gold medals and over 54000 total medals in just 8 summer Olympics. I'm fairly certain there weren't even that many medals to win. This analysis assumes that the ability to win medals increases linearly with population, which is impossible. (from Pete, Aug 2012)
- Did you include the GB countries separately also? Or England, , , Wales? Pretty sure Scotland would be high up your table. (from robbie hendry, 8 Aug 2012)
- Another comparison could be made, if one deletes with each country the most successful sport. For example, at this moment (6th aug) London-Olympics 2012, USA has 60 medals, however 30 medals are won in 1 sport (swimming), which indicates, that in the wide variety of sports, the overall performance of USA is very average/mediocre(310 million people!!! & 1 of the richest countries in the world) (from J. Meekma, 6 Aug 2012)
- Interesting. But things are really more complicated than just a simple ranking by number of medals. If nobody has mentioned, the analysis should be corrected by the number of athletes participating PER COUNTRY in each sport. For example (simplified): there could be 5 chinese, 3 germans, 1 japanese, and the gold, silver and bronze go to the japanese, german and chinese in this order. Clearly, the japanese win counts more than all the 5 chinese, and the 3 germans. This is indeed the kind of analysis that must be done: To correct for the number of athletes participating PER COUNTRY, and PER SPORT. China is huge, they can send hordes of athletes to the Olympics, but Cuba, Finland, or even Brasil send less. Conclusions could then be startling. (from Maxei, 6 Aug 2012)
- What most just will not acknowledge is the regularity of the type of countries that rank highest (not considering the Bahamas). They are essentially countries that have been marked by high levels of social equality and public sponsorship of sport. Makes you think, doesn't it? (from John of God, Aug 2012)
- NZ and Australia are special cases as their populations have changed significantly and disproportionately and are therefore disadvantaged by using current population statistics. Also as shown on your 2008 statistics Australia is ranked 5th and is the only reasonably large population ranking well. (from Mike, Aug 2012)
- Yes, ignore all results of East Germany. That would make your silly statistics more true! We in the West have not doped at all. We are good - they are evil. OM (from P. Foster, 6 Aug 2012)
- Look at recent medal tables though in recent years Scandinavia sucks. So whatever they had they lost. (from Graham Higgins, Aug 2012)
- I'd disagree with your evaluation of Scandinavia's Olympic performance, at least based on this year. Finland may not have won any medals this year yet, but Denmark is one of the top four performers per capita (alongside Jamaica, New Zealand, and Slovenia), while Sweden and Norway are doing OK as well. (from Paddy, 6 Aug 2012)
- Interesting analysis. Based on results at the halfway mark of the 2012 Olympics, however, the table leaders should watch their backs ... no medals yet for Finland, Estonia or the Bahamas, but Sweden has three silvers while Hungary has two golds, a silver, and two bronzes. (from Paddy, Aug 2012)
- The larger the country the less decentralized it is. The United States and China could never have a higher ratio than the smaller number of countries on this list, especially when you consider how many niche sports here are in the Olympics? How many of the best American athletes, for example, play football and baseball. Two sports that are not in the Olympics but are multi-mega billion dollar a year leagues (NFL, MLB). The US can dominate in a sport like basketball that has massive popularity around the world but that meddle still only counts as much as a victory in synchronized swimming. Larger countries usually means more individuals with less access to the coaching and training necessary to become great in a particular event. This is particularly true with highly diversified economies like the US. An example I'll give is when looking at television rating for sporting events. New York City is by almost any measurement a terrific, top-tier sports team. But it will never pull in as high a ratings share for, say, an NFL game as a Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Kansas City, New Orleans, etc, mostly because of its size and diversified economy. You'll get the big "whole" numbers but not the percentages and per-capita numbers that we fixate on. (from Erik W., 6 Aug 2012)
- A per capita evens the playing field a bit, but not entirely. The large countries still have advantages that the smaller countries don't. The bigger countries get a huge number of relay medals every Olympics. If for example the Scandinavian countries were one country together with Australia and NZ then just based on the swimmers they already have they would be extremely strong in all swimming relays for example. So a better measure would probably be to also take away all those relay events which are mostly a function of country size to. (from Alexander, 3 Aug 2012)
- Another important factor that is not taken into consideration is the number of Olympic Games attended. this could have a huge impact on your calculations. (from Neil, 3 Aug 2012)
- Reply: Yes, I agree, and I have updated this article to include analysis based on average medals per the number of appearances at the Olympics.
- I think you should compare static between medals / all time number of athletes. because i don't think U.S.A. example can have 1:1 ratio of athletes in Olympic Games as we little countries. Please correct me if I'm wrong. (from Markus Makkonen, Aug 2012)
- Ignorant form lol. Just admit it, the USA rules. (from Machine, Aug 2012)
- I think that this raises a really good question. How many medals would China or even the US or Russia have to win to have the same level of medals per capita? Let us say that the US has 300 million people, in order to achieve the same total medals per million it would have had to won over 16,000 medals. I don't know if there are that many total medals that could have possibly been won. I do know that the big countries had the per capita medal counts that smaller countries have or even came close they would be really boring to watch because China, India and the US would win them all. (from Eric, Aug 2012)
- In relation to New Zealand's medal count, in both 1908 & 1912 New Zealand & Australia sent combined teams to the Olympics. New Zealand athletes won 1 bronze in both 1908 & 1912 and 0.25 of a gold in 1912 (1 Kiwi & 3 Aussies in the 4x200 freestyle relay). You have not added these in to your count. (from Gordon Fidler, Aug 2012)
- Just as a note New Zealand only started to compete in 1920. (from Casey, Aug 2012)
- It's also worth noting that Hungary, for example, was not allowed to compete in the 1920 Olympics. The irony is that Budapest won the right to host the Olympics that year, but WW1 and the Versailles Treaty changed things. The country also lost out on the Olympics in Los Angeles in 1980, due to the Soviet-imposed blockade. (from Andras, July 2012)
- NOTE: the top countries Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway borders to each other ... would that point to that the area has the best sportsmen in the world? gotta be something in the water =P (from hexy, July 2012)
- I like your tables with per capita and per GDP.
I would like to know if it is normalized by current Population and Current GDP
If you compute an ranking for All time. It needs to be
computed using the GDP and Population at that Olympic year and integrated over the years that country Participated.
China has participated for only 8 Olympics, while USA for 25. So for an all-time listing you need some average.
Then Soviet Union and East Germany will not come as N/A
since they had a population at that time.
Also a country with a currently depressed GDP like Zimbabwe will not come high since they had a higher GDP in past.
I know it is a lot of work, but once the database is setup
with past GDP and Population estimates, computing the correct index is not difficult to program. (from Dr Kavan Ratnatunga, July 2012) -
- Reply: I agree, the data analysis need more work, which won't be happening just now. (Rob, Topend Sports)
- What about a weather correction? Surely Ireland would then have to figure?! (from Jim, July 2012)
- This isn't quite accurate as it hasn't taken into account changes in population over the years. New Zealand population is based on today's figures. For most of Olympic history it has been under 3 million. Finland's probably has been constantly about 5 million. (from Dan, July 2012)
- Reply: yes, you are right, only the most recent figures for population were used in the above calculations, even though population levels have changed over time. The assumption is that the proportion is similar for each country, but this is probably not always the case as you point out. (Rob, topendsports)
- Being an Estonian I cannot help but have to point out that if Estonian athletes' medals from the Soviet period were included, the total tally would be 27-22-27. A few of these medals came in team sports with the USSR team, not in individual events but nevertheless the official data misses about half of the medals. (from Lynx, July 2012)
- USA not in the Top-10? That won't do. Must fudge the numbers some more. (from Rick, July 2012)
- The most golds per capita is down as Finland - not New Zealand as said during the 2012 Opening Ceremony (from Jerry Lewis, July 27, 2012)
- Pretty sure that this is including the Winter Olympics, and the statistic about New Zealand referred to in the opening ceremony is in fact only the summer games. (from John Jameson, Aug 2012)
- Reply: this list IS for the summer Olympics. Finland have won many of their 101 Summer Olympics gold medals in track and field (48) and also wrestling (26). (from Rob, Topend Sports, Aug 3 2012)
- The comment during the BBC opening ceremony coverage re. NZ being top of the per capita table was only a guess by one of the commentators, it wasn't confirmed. (from C Hughes, 5 Aug 2012)
- Reply: NZ and Australia are often quoted as being the best performers per capita, though the analysis above does not confirm this :( (from Rob, Topend Sports, Aug 5 2012)
- I think again you have to look to a previous comments NZs population didn't reach 3 million until 1976 as opposed to Finland who exceeded this in 1913. I believe if other factors like this were measured there may be some truth in Jerry's quick slip of tongue. (from Hales, 10 Aug 2012)
- Yes NZ and Australia have both had relatively high population growth over the last 30 years so population at each Olympics needs to be factored ... (from Big Bad Bill, 11 Aug 2012)