The common method of determining the success of countries at the Olympic Games is a ranking order based first on the number of gold medals won, then silver and bronze. This method is used by the IOC and most media outlets during the Olympic Games, but there is still no 'official' method.
Usually the country that has led in total medals also led in the gold count - when did it not? Exceptions are the 1896, 1912 and 1964 Summer Olympics when the United States finished first in gold medal count but second in the overall medal count. Also in 2008, the US finished first in total medal count but second to China in the overall based on gold medals. A criticism of counting only gold medals to determine success is that it implies that winning silver and bronze, or making the final, is worthless.
Another commonly used method (the predominent method used in the USA) is to rank countries based on the total medals won. In this case, a silver and bronze medal count the same as the gold medal - is a silver or bronze really worth as much as a gold medal? Certainly not to the athlete.
There are numerous possible other ways of ranking success at the Olympics, with some of the alternative medal tally ranking systems having merit. A more extreme system that has been tried is to count all gold medals won, so the results from team sports count the number of individual medals given out. This totally biases countries which win medals in the team sports.
Then there are weighted systems which assign differing amounts of points to each of the gold, silver and bronze medals. You can see a discussion of the weighted methods which compares a few variations using this method. Other ranking methods have factored in demographic factors such as population size and economic factors such as gross domestic product (GDP). You can see a discussion of the demographic methods.
Below are listed quite a few alternative medal ranking systems, and a discussion of any differences that they may make.
All Ranking Systems
Here are some of the ranking systems that have been devised. A weighted system of some sort seems like the best system, but it is not as simple to implement as either the gold first or total medals method.
- gold first method — based first on the number of gold medals, then silver and bronze. Does silver and bronze have no value?
- total medals — based on the total number of medals (gold, silver and bronze). This method gives equal rating to gold,silver and bronze, which does not seem a fair system.
- total gold medals — counting all the gold medals won, including counting the medals for each individual athlete in team sports.
- Improvement Rating — based on percentage improvement from previous Games result.
- Compared to expectations — there are several groups that forecast or predict the medal won for each country based on factors such as population, GDP and previous performances, at prior Olympics and competitions leading up to the Olympics.
- Fibonacci weighted point system (3:2:1) — gold 3 points, silver 2 points, and bronze 1 point.
- Exponential weighted point system (4:2:1) — gold 4 points, silver 2 points, and bronze 1 point.
- London 1908 weighted point system (5:3:1) — gold 5 points, silver 3 points, and bronze 1 point.
- LOF weighted point system (5:3:2) — gold 5 points, silver 3 points, and bronze 2 point.
- Topend Sports weighted point system (6:2:1) — gold 6 points, silver 2 points, and bronze 1 point.
- per-capita demographic ranking — number of medals is divided by the population of the country.
- per-GDP demographic ranking — number of medals is divided by the gross domestic product (GDP) of the country.
Comparing Ranking Systems
Some of the weighted ranking systems only vary slightly, but can make a significant difference in the order on some tables. See the comparisons of the most successful countries at the Olympics using the weighted points and demographic systems, and the same using the all-time medal list. These weighted systems are also used to compare the greatest Olympic athletes of all time.
Check out our poll about your Preferred Medal Ranking System.
- Vote for your Preferred Medal Ranking System.
- About the Topend Sports weighted point system.
- Rank countries based on comparison to predicted.
- Medal tables from all /lympic Games.
- Comparisons of weighted points and demographic systems.
- Raymond (2016)
Weighted system should be that team sports like hockey should be counted as 11 medals as the players have to play around 8 games to obtain a medal. There sould also be a "iron medal" for 4th place.
- Ray Warner (2017)
Point count only the rest is mischief .3 for gold,2 for silver and one for bronze; the tally the scores..
- Hernán G (2017)
In fact, when Argentina win the gold medal in Football (Athens 2004) some players didn't receive any medal because they not play...
- Rezwits (2016)
I am looking for an actual Team Weighted Medal System with per player. This may sound crazy, but if you think about this, forget the US being out of control with Basketball, for starters. My thing is Soccer, Basketball, Volleyball etc, are only counted for 1 MEDAL per sport/event. Swimming has numerous events and so does running, like ten to twenty. My thing is if you look at the host nation Brazil, those freakin VolleyBall and Soccer Gold Medals are HUGE, that should count like 2 for Beach, 10 for Men's Volleyball, and what 20 for soccer? (idk the exact team members) but those are IMMENSE SPORTS and there were, 5-6 games or what have you played on average per Sport. So Brazil should have like 30 extra GOLD?! and the fact is they actually GET GOLD MEDALS? in their HANDS? so why shouldn't they count? SO where is the Team Weighted System? Still Googling!
- Albiontyke (2016)
Leave it as it is, a weighting system is filled with holes and what if's.
- Copyu (2014)
I'm late to the party, but want to put in my 2 cents' worth. If you just take the *medals* awarded to one country, for one particular event, regardless of the number of performers/participants in the event, total that and work out the medal count per 10,000 of population, you will find that Australia is the most successful country in the world, with about 9 medals per 10,000 of population (*today's population*). You don't need to worry about the fact that Australia's population has more than doubled and nearly TRIPLED, since the modern Olympics began. Just do the Arithmetic in a 'fair fashion'. Country #2 is Germany, (thanks largely to the former East Germany), with about 4 medals per 10,000 of East & West Germany combined... The stats I've seen (medals per million) are so stupidly skewed that "nations" with a population of less than an average 'country town' around the developed world, who had a boxer with a gold medal, 50 years ago, automatically go to position #1. That's crazy!
- GuccizBud (2013)
It seems obvious to me that a weighted system would be most fair. Consider:
The total medals method is rather ridiculous, and it surprises me
somewhat that it even exists as "a system"; using that method, a country
with 10 Gold medals is worth less than one with 11
Silver medals… and both are wortrh less than a
country with 12 Bronze medals.
(2) Even the Gold standard is not
accurate in my view (though not quite as ridiculous as the total medals
method above); using the Gold method, a country with 10 Gold medals
only (i.e. no Silver, no Bronze) outranks a country
with 20 Silver, 20 Bronze, and 9 Gold medals. In and of itself, the Gold
method is, actually, as silly as the total medals
method; the only reason it is somewhat usable is because the situation I
describe in the previous sentence can virtually never happen, because
the countries with the most Gold medals also tend to be the ones with
the most total medals. That means that while it's on the whole an
invalid method, it is made somewhat valid by certain conditions which
serve to validate it… like saying the sentence "it never rains 3 days in
a row" is a correct and valid statement because such is the situation
in the middle of the Sahara. Conditionally true only.
leaves us with weighted systems, whereby all three types of medals have
comparative values because they have comparative valor; it is like an
overall semester average, taking into account the final grade of every
subject, and thus granting various levels of recognition for each
subject and an overall level of recognition on the whole.
now, assuming we go with this (#3, weighted systems), people tend to run
into even more trouble and disagreement and arguing
(lol) over WHICH weighted system to use; what, indeed, is the
comparative value of one medal to the next? Is a Gold worth
two Silvers, or more… or less?!
What about, say, four Bronzes… worth the same, or more, or less, than
one Gold? The simplest weighted system is a 1-2-3 system, where Bronze
would be worth 1, Silver 2, and Gold 3. It is in fact a very basic
Fibonacci sequence, and it sees a Gold medal as the equivalent of a
Silver plus a Bronze.
But it can also be
derived from the 1-2-3 system that it sees the Silver medal as being
worth 2/3 as much as a Gold, and the Bronze as worth 1/3 the Gold (and
1/2 the Silver). What if you like the idea of the Gold being worth
Silver+Bronze but don't like those other ratios,
which are based on 1-2-3?
That's when you can start looking at
other weighted systems… like the LOF weighted system, which keeps the
G=S+B formula, but changes the 1-2-3 ratio, specifically in this case to
2-3-5. This changes the comparative medal weights like this:
1-2-3 Weighted System
Gold worth Silver+Bronze
Silver worth 67% of Gold
Bronze worth 33% of Gold (and 50% of Silver)
2-3-5 Weighted System
Gold worth Silver+Bronze
Silver worth 60% of Gold
Bronze worth 40% of Gold (and 67% of Silver)
So overall it keeps the Gold=Silver+Bronze idea, but lowers the specific value of Silver a bit, while raising Bronze's somewhat.
you can see that a point system can be chosen and tailored to whatever
is desired for the comparative values of Gold, Silver, and Bronze to be. Getting everyone to agree is the problem. :)
- Me (2013)
Total medal count is an idiotic, self-serving way of counting success. It is absolutely unfair to count bronze as equal to a gold medal,
It's the winner that counts; everything else should be used as tie-breaker only.
If we start counting more than the winner, why stop at three? Why not count the first 10 places? Or the first 25? Just ridiculous...
- Duh (2013)
wow.... are you serious?
You made the total medal method is fair way, but it is not.
The silver and bronze medal worth a lot as well, but not just as much as the gold medal.
That is why there is gold medal, for the 1st place players.
It is just stupid, that dragging down the first player to the second and third player just to make the U.S. feel ok.
If you cound gold and silver and bronze the same, then what is the point of racing so hard to get in the first place?
I mean, it is just a lousy argument that somewhat working only in the U.S., especially when the U.S. lost to China in 2008 olympic.
Come on..... if you lost, admit that you lost.
The more you try to justify your failure, the more you will get pathetic.
- I was always wondering why any system counts a TEAM gold as 1 medal. That puts e.g. football (soccer) on the bottom of any evaluation system despite the sport is #1 and it is far ahead of any sports. This is TOTALY wrong conception. My vision is that any team that gets gold should be counted as number of the primary participated members. E.g. football winner country should be counted as 11 medals, basketball - 6 medals etc. This would be much more accurate evaluation. And also, at least first 6 spots should be counted as it used be in some old systems. E.g. the Gold could be 10, silver 8, bronze 6, 4th - 3, 5th -2 , 6th - 1. I will try to calculate scores using these 2 rules and see the real Olympics power ranking. (from Mike, 16 Aug 2012)
- So why count only medals? So being 4th isn't worth anything? I counted all diplomas, that is up to the eighth position in any event. 14 points for gold, 10 for silver, 7 for bronze, 5 for 4th, 4 for fifth, etc., down to 1 point for 8th position (or 2.5 points for unranked semifinalists). It yields very interesting results. And it just makes sense. (from Javier García, 16 Aug 2012)
- The system has to consider the value of the medals in the standings. We can't say that third best is the same as the best. A country that has 5 gold,one has 5 silver and another has five bronze. Should they be considerd tied. Of course not they have different levels on the podium. If they where the same ,there would be no levels. (from frank, Aug 2012)
- The ranking system based on Gold determining the overall position is in my opinion very flawed. In a situation where (eg.) One country earns (say) 10 Gold and zero the rest, and another country has (say) 9 Gold, 10 Silver, the country with the 10 Gold is ranked ahead on the "standard" ranking system. This completely overlooks the depth of the second country's athletes. I think and others may obviously differ, that a system based on gold=3, silver=2, bronze=1 weighting is the most fair method. Certainly not total medals won IMO. (from brianoh, 14 Aug 2012)
- This is very stupid on the part of Olympic committee that even now they are unable to count the respect of silver and bronze medals ... according to me a fair valued system will be the best way to give respect to the talent of athletes. (from manoj pawa, 14 Aug 2012)
- Why aren't all team medals counted? It isn't fair that each medal is not counted in the totals. Every athlete has worked extremely hard to attain their medal and each country deserves to have the total count given--not one medal for soccer or basketball, etc. (from Kathi Jentzsch, 13 Aug 2012)
- Reply: I agree somewhat. It may not be fair that each medal awarded to team sport players are not counted, though counting all these medals on the medal tally would not be fair either, giving a huge advantage on the medal table for the countries that do well in the team sports. (Rob, Topend Sports)
- I was under the impression that the IOC only recognized Gold and Silver. The Bronze was and add-on for media and country recognition only. Makes sense. And if you want to add a weight, 2 for gold, 1 for silver. A particular country can reward its own athletes for being say in the top ten. Some countries reward athletes with cash for gold and silver, but not for bronze. (from rob29, 13 Aug 2012)
- In terms of economic worth the question should go to the athletes, how many silvers would you trade for a gold, bronzes for silver, bronzes for gold. This might vary from sport to sport, country to country and of course individuals. I would guess that no one who had a gold would trade it for 1 silver or 1 bronze, however those with a bronze or silver would happily trade a legitimately won place. (from Paul, 13 Aug 2012)
- Total medals is a stupid analysis. The position of a country are decided by the golds won, not how many medals are taken. The IOC decides by the gold medals won. will the judge the greatest player at Wimbledon by the number of times he has reached the final or semifinal or by the times has won? (from jack, 11 Aug 2012)
- Due to the fact that most of the times the difference of performance between the gold, silver and bronze athletes is minimal, I would prefer a point system like 10-9-8. I would also eliminate the big difference of the material value of the 3 medals, to reflect this concept of the minimal difference among athletes. I would give them silver medals of different shapes, circle, octagon and exagon. (from Adrian, Aug 2012)
- The most indicative system would be total gold. Team events and relays are more indicative of a country's prowess, and take more effort to win. Ideally there would be some tv rating or popularity index as well. Athletics, swimming, and cycling are worth more shooting.
- With multiple medals able to be won by an individual in sports such as swimming, but only one available to each athlete in the sailing, and similar competitions it would be interesting to see how many discrete sports each country won medals in. This would probably disadvantage my own nation (GB) who win many medals in the cycling and rowing, but nonetheless may show which nation has the greatest diversity of sporting achievement. (from John Laidlaw, July 2012)
- Great article,
I've given the issue a bit of thought. I would favor a system that rewards the accomplishment of being in the World Top 3 (beating out thousands of outstanding athletes), and shrink the value gap between the medals. Gold: 5, Silver: 4, Bronze: 3
or maybe even
Gold: 10, Silver: 9, Bronze: 8? Then throw in the GDP factor for good measure! (from J-F DaSylva, July 2012)
- With the question, is it fair to not include silver and bronze, could also bring other questions such as: Is it fair ... (1) One country has more competitors(2) Has more countrymen to choose from, (3) If one country has all of the top in one event, should they all be chosen rather then selected from each country ... The list could go on. The whole idea is who won the event from which country. Of course it is unfair to itemise the total of any countries medals due to the above plus those who are denied competing because they are unable to afford to compete. Are not recognized because they never got a chance to be chosen. Etc etc etc. (from Sandon, July 23 2012)