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Medal Tally Ranking Systems

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 stand

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.

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.

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Old Comments

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.

(3) That
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

More specifically–
Silver worth 67% of Gold
Bronze worth 33% of Gold (and 50% of Silver)

2-3-5 Weighted System


Gold worth Silver+Bronze

More specifically–

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. :)

Olympics Extra

The next Olympics will be in Paris 2024, followed by the Winter edition in Milan-Cortina 2026. Check out the list of Olympic Games sports, as well as discontinued and demonstration sports.

Major Events Extra

The largest sporting event in the world is the Olympic Games, but there are many other multi-sport games. In terms of single sport events, nothing beats the FIFA World Cup. To see what's coming up, check out the calendar of major sporting events.

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