The USA and USSR have dominated the medal tally throughout modern Olympic history. China is the new Olympic medal producing powerhouse. The thing these countries have in common is large resources, including a large population from which to develop Olympic medalists. To some people this does not seem fair, and a more reasonable way of ranking the performance of countries at the Olympics is to compare the results to the population size of the country. Below we use the 2008 medal table as an example to compare the rankings per population. The population data is taken from the CIA World Fact Book, 2011.
When ordered by medals per capita, small nations tend to dominate, as it does not take many medals to quickly shoot up the table. Using the medals won throughout the history of the Summer Olympic Games, it may be a more accurate measure of the per capita success of a country. We have done a similar analysis using the all time medal list to determine the total all-time Olympic medals won per capita.
Gold medals per million population
By all accounts Jamaica was a very successful country at the 2008 Olympic Games. Their athletes won six gold medals, from a population of 2,780,132. However, they did not show much diversity - all the medals were from sprint events, with three golds thanks to World record holder Usain Bolt. Bahrain was originally placed second on this list with a gold to Rashid Ramzi in men's 1,500 meters (Bahrain's first Olympic medal) but he was later stripped of his medal due to a doping violation.
Total medals per million population
The tiny nation of the Bahamas (population 305,655 in 2008) won two medals in athletics to be the clear leader of total medals per million population. Australia is also a standout on this list, with a population of over 20 million - the others are smaller nations of 4 million or less.
Weighted medal score per million population
(using the Topend Sports weighted ranking system: Gold=6 Silver=2 Bronze=1 points)
This method takes into consideration both the high value of gold medals won, plus some value (albeit much less) for the minor medals. Jamaica leads in this system, as it did for the ranking system based on just gold medals. Winning just any Olympic medal is a great achievement for some of the smaller nations. Although the Bahamas and Iceland only won a couple of minor medals, they are from such as small population and this table indicates gives credit for that. Iceland's solitary silver medal from a population of just over 300,000 ranks better than Norway's 10 medals including 3 golds from a population 15 times larger (about 4.5 million), and that sounds about fair.
We have also ranked countries on total all-time Olympic medals won per capita. See also another demographic ranking system based on gross domestic product (GDP), and the comparison of weighted points ranking systems.
- See ranked countries on total all-time Olympic medals won per capita
- 2018 Winter Olympic Games medal table per capita
- About Olympic Medal Ranking Systems
- Another ranking system based on GDP
- Comparison of weighted points ranking systems.
- Poll: which medal ranking system is best?
- medal tables from all Olympic Games
- About Olympic Medals