Which Country is Really Winning the Olympics?

The Olympic Games are the pinnacle of sports on earth.  The world’s best athletes at dozens of different sports spend their entire lives to prepare to compete in hundreds of events every four years for your viewing pleasure. If an athlete has the right skill, fortitude, and genetics they might just win gold with a bit of luck.

These world-class athletes will soon know if all of their years of hard work and sacrifice have paid off. If they win gold they’ll know that they are the best in the world at their sport.  However, I have always felt that the country vs country Olympic coverage is lacking.

The Problem With The Olympics

Simply put, I don’t think we do a good job measuring which country wins each Olympics and by how much. You’ve probably seen tables like the below before. Some of these also weigh medals at 3 for gold, 2 for silver, and 1 for bronze. That’s a little better, but no matter how it’s done comparing raw medal counts doesn’t seem to adequately measure the Olympic Games.

There are also websites that weigh each country’s medal output per capita or by GDP.  Those are well and good, but they typically skew to smaller countries that happen to have one single Gold medal performer.  They also are not what I’m trying to prove here. I am trying to see who is the best country in the world across all events regardless of wealth and population factors.

I just don’t think that all events should be created equal.  Speed walking is not on the same level as basketball in terms of competitiveness, prestige, and a number of other factors.  Team sport medals shouldn’t count the same as medals for individual athletes.

Sports like swimming, gymnastics, and track and field each have dozens of different events with hundreds of total medals awarded across them to soccer’s 6 total medals (gold, silver, and bronze for the men’s and women’s events).  I love Michael Phelps, his record 8 gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics may never be broken. But is this really the fairest way to judge which country is best at the Olympics? Team USA swimming took home 31 medals in 2008, which is more than all but 9 other countries across all sports and events that year.  There is a reason that the list of athletes who’ve won multiple gold medals at a single games is chalk full of swimmers, runners, and gymnasts (with a few shooters from the early 1900’s mixed in).

By way of example, swimming has 37 events at the Tokyo Olympics. By the above logic, are we saying that swimming is six times more worthy as an Olympic sport than basketball? And twelve times more than soccer? We could easily have more basketball events in addition to 5×5 and 3×3 (new to the Olympics this year) like: 1×1, 2×2, 4×4, dunk contest, 3 point shooting, heck even H.O.R.S.E. (and I would shamelessly watch all of these events). And I’m sure we could do the same for soccer and many other sports. You see the dilemma.

The Solution

There must be a way to better judge a country’s total output. I couldn’t find any rubric that I liked so I decided to create one myself.  See below:

  • Points for medaling – We’re keeping the weighted medal count the same here:
    • Gold – 3 points
    • Silver – 2 points
    • Bronze – 1 point
  • We’ll break the events into 2 categories of “competitiveness” (see the competitiveness criteria below).
    • x 2 points – maximum competitive (soccer, swimming, running sports, etc.)
    • x 1 points – ultra competitive (equestrian, sailing, judo, etc.)
  • Multiply the point total by the number of players per team on the field/court/track/etc. at a time.  After all, a sport that requires multiple players on the field all working together should get points for each player.
  • So a gold medal would be worth:
    • Basketball: 3 points (gold) x 2 points (max competitive) x 5 points (# of players on court) = 30 points. 
    • Soccer: 3 (gold) x 2 (max competitive) x 11 (# of players on field) = 66 points
    • Weightlifting: 3 (gold) x 2 (max) x 1 (solo event) = 6 points
    • Equestrian: 3 (gold) x 1 (ultra competitive) 3 x 1 (solo event) = 3 points
  • The Phelps/Team USA Swimming Rule – For each sport that has 10 or more events, a country may only count half of the medals as the number of events to their point total. For example, Sailing has 10 events so any one country can only claim 5 medals for their point total. Swimming has 37 events so any one country (*cough* Team USA *cough*) can only count19 medals towards their point total. They may claim the 19 highest point value medals, of course. This is to equalize sports that have higher numbers of events and the same athletes competing in similar events.

Olympic Competitiveness

The competitiveness criteria is a combination of the accessibility of the sport (i.e. number of people in the world able to play) and how developed the sport is worldwide.  Sports that are very developed have professional leagues, lower feeder leagues (NCAA, AAA, relegation soccer leagues, etc.), world class coaching, top athletes participating, money, resources, etc. Sports that are less developed lack one or more of these things.

A few quick examples: Running sports are maxed out in terms of accessibility even though they may not be as developed, depending on the distance, but they none-the-less are max competitive.  Speed walking is something that everyone has access to but has not been nearly as developed so it is considered ultra competitive. Sports that require expensive equipment like sailing, surfing, fencing, etc. are not accessible on a global scale. The would not be considered max competitive unless they have been developed to scale like baseball or weightlifting.

This is the Olympics and these are all incredibly talented athletes so there are only two categories: max competitive and ultra competitive. All of these athletes are clearly way better at their chosen sports than I could ever hope to be in anything in my life so I am not trying to take anything away from them. Also, disclaimer that this is a work in progress and coming from a very American athletic point of view. Contact me at the Baseline Times to make your case why any of the ultra competitive sports should be considered max competitive if you disagree with the list.

Max Competitive

  • Athletics/Track & Field – Running (26)
    • 100 metres
    • 200 metres
    • 400 metres
    • 800 metres
    • 1500 metres
    • 5000 metres
    • 10,000 metres
    • 110 metres hurdles
    • 400 metres hurdles
    • 3000 metres steeplechase
    • 4 × 100 metres relay
    • 4 × 400 metres relay
    • Marathon
  • Baseball (1)
  • Softball (1)
  • Basketball (2)
  • Field hockey (2)
  • Football / Soccer (2)
  • Golf (2)
  • Volleyball
    • Volleyball (2)
    • Beach volleyball (2)
  • Handball (2)
  • Table tennis (5)
  • Tennis (5)
  • Rugby sevens (2)
  • Swimming (37)
  • Boxing (13)
  • Gymnastics
    • Artistic (14)
    • Rhythmic (2)
    • Trampoline (2)
  • Weightlifting (14)
  • Wrestling
    • Freestyle (12)
    • Greco-Roman (6)
  • Road cycling (4)

Ultra Competitive

  • 3×3 basketball (2)
  • Artistic swimming (2)
  • Diving (8)
  • Water polo (2)
  • Archery (5)
  • Badminton (5)
  • Canoeing
    • Canoeing Slalom (4)
    • Canoeing Sprint (12)
  • Cycling
    • BMX freestyle (2)
    • BMX racing (2)
    • Mountain biking (2)
    • Track cycling (12)
  • Equestrian
    • Dressage (2)
    • Eventing (2)
    • Jumping (2)
  • Fencing (12)
  • Judo (15)
  • Karate
    • Kata (2)
    • Kumite (6)
  • Modern pentathlon (2)
  • Rowing (14)
  • Sailing (10)
  • Shooting (15)
  • Skateboarding (4)
  • Sport climbing (2)
  • Surfing (2)
  • Taekwondo (8)
  • Triathlon (3)
  • Athletics/ Track & Field – Non-running (22)
    • 20 kilometres walk
    • 50 kilometres walk
    • High jump
    • Pole vault
    • Long jump
    • Triple jump
    • Shot put
    • Discus throw
    • Hammer throw
    • Javelin throw
    • Decathlon

The Baseline Times Olympic Leaderboard

Follow along all throughout the Games to see who is winning the Olympics!

CountryGoldSilverBronzeBT Points
USA141711224
China18911192
ROC (Russia)101410175
Japan1746165
Top performing countries will be filled in as medals are awarded

China

Gold:

  1. Shooting – Women’s 10m Air Rifle – 3 points
  2. Weightlifting – Women’s 49kg – 6
  3. Fencing – Women’s Individual Epee – 3
  4. Weightlifting – Men’s 61kg – 6
  5. Diving – Women’s 3m Springboard Synchro – 6
  6. Weightlifting – Men’s 67kg – 6
  7. Shooting – Mixed 10m Air Pistol – Team – 6
  8. Shooting – Mixed 10m Air Rifle – Team – 6
  9. Diving – Women’s 10m Platform Synchro – 6
  10. Rowing – Women’s Quadruple Sculls – 12
  11. Weightlifting – Men’s 73kg – 6
  12. Diving – Men’s 3m Springboard Synchro – 6
  13. Swimming – Women’s 200m Butterfly – 24
  14. Swimming – Women’s 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay – 6
  15. Swimming – Men’s 200m Individual Medley – 6
  16. Badminton – Mixed’s Doubles -6
  17. Gymnastics – Trampoline – Women’s Individual Trampoline – 6
  18. Table Tennis – Men’s Singles – 6

Silver:

  1. Shooting – Men’s 10m Air Rifle – 2 points
  2. Diving – Men’s Synchronized 10 M Platform – 4
  3. Swimming – Women’s 100m – 4
  4. Weightlifting – Women’s 55kg – 4
  5. Table Tennis – Mixed’s Doubles – 8
  6. Gymnastics – Artistic – Men’s Individual All-Around – 4
  7. Badminton – Mixed’s Doubles – 4
  8. Gymnastics – Trampoline – Women’s Individual Trampoline – 4
  9. Table Tennis – Men’s Singles – 4

Bronze:

  1. Shooting – Men’s 10m Air Pistol – 1 point
  2. Shooting – Women’s 10m Air Pistol – 1
  3. Shooting – Men’s 10m Air Rifle – 1
  4. Taekwondo – Men’s Featherweight 58-68kg – 1
  5. Shooting – Women’s Skeet – 1
  6. Swimming – Women’s 400m Freestyle – 2
  7. Gymnastics – Artistic – Men’s Team – 8
  8. Basketball – Women’s Basketball 3×3 – 6
  9. Rowing – Men’s Double Sculls – 2
  10. Rowing – Women’s Eight – 8
  11. Shooting – Women’s 25m Pistol – 1

Total: 192 points

USA

Gold:

  1. Swimming – Men’s 400m Individual Medley – 6 points
  2. Shooting – Men’s 10m Air Rifle – 3
  3. Taekwondo – Women’s Featherweight – 3
  4. Swimming – Men’s 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay – 12
  5. Shooting – Men’s Skeet – 3
  6. Shooting – Women’s Skeet – 3
  7. Fencing – Women’s foil individual – 3
  8. Swimming – Women’s 100-m breastroke – 6
  9. Women’s 3×3 Basketball – 18
  10. Swimming – Men’s 100m Freestyle – 6
  11. Swimming – Women’s 1500m Freestyle – 6
  12. Swimming – Men’s 800m Freestyle – 6
  13. Gymnastics – Artistic – Women’s Individual All-Around – 6
  14. Surfing – Women’s Shortboard – 3

Silver:

  1. Swimming – Men’s 400m Individual – 4 points
  2. Swimming – Women’s 400m Individual Medley – 4 points
  3. Swimming – Women’s 400m Freestyle – 4
  4. Shooting, Mixed team air rifle – 4
  5. Diving – Women’s synchro platform – 4
  6. Gymnastics – Women’s Team, Gymnastics – 16
  7. Dressage – Women’s Team – 6
  8. Softball – 40
  9. Swimming, Women’s 200-m Individual medley – 2
  10. Swimming, Women’s 1,500-m freestyle – 2
  11. Swimming – Women’s 200m Individual – 4
  12. Shooting – Women’s Trap – 2
  13. Swimming – Women’s 200m Butterfly – 2
  14. Swimming – Women’s 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay – 16
  15. Swimming – Women’s 200m Breaststroke – 4
  16. Swimming – Men’s 200m Backstroke – 4
  17. Triathlon – Mixed Team Relay – 8

Bronze:

  1. Swimming – Men’s 400m Freestyle – 2 points
  2. Swimming – Women’s 400m Individual Medley – 2
  3. Skateboarding – Men’s Street – 1
  4. Swimming – Women’s 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay – 8
  5. Swimming – Women’s 100-m backstroke – 2
  6. Swimming – Men’s 100-m backstroke – 2
  7. Swimming -Women’s 100-m breastroke – 2
  8. Triathlon, Women’s individual – 1
  9. Swimming – Women’s 200 Individual medley – 2
  10. Swimming – Women’s 200m Butterfly – 2
  11. Swimming – Women’s 200m Breaststroke – 2

Total: 224 points

Japan

Gold:

  1. Judo – Men’s 60kg – 3 points
  2. Swimming – Women’s 400m Individual Medley – 6 points
  3. Skateboarding – Men’s Street – 3
  4. Judo – Women’s 52kg – 3
  5. Judo – Men’s 66kg – 3
  6. Judo – Men’s 73kg – 3
  7. Table Tennis – Mixed’s Doubles – 12
  8. Skateboarding – Women’s Street – 3
  9. Judo – Men’s 81kg – 3
  10. Softball – 60
  11. Swimming – Women’s 200m Individual Medley – 6
  12. Judo – Women’s 70kg – 3
  13. Gymnastics – Artistic – Men’s Individual All-Around – 6
  14. Judo – Women’s 78kg – 3
  15. Judo – Men’s 100kg – 3
  16. Judo – Women’s +78kg – 3
  17. Fencing – Men’s Team Epee – 6

Silver:

  1. Judo – Women’s 48kg – 2 points
  2. Gymnastics – Artistic – Men’s Team – 16
  3. Surfing – Men’s Shortboard – 4
  4. Swimming – Men’s 200m Butterfly – 4

Bronze:

  1. Archery – Men’s Recurve Team – 3 points
  2. Judo – Women’s 57kg – 1
  3. Skateboarding – Women’s Street – 1
  4. Weightlifting – Women’s 59kg – 2
  5. Surfing – Women’s Shortboard – 1
  6. Badminton – Mixed’s Doubles – 2

Total: 165 points

ROC (Russia)

Gold:

  1. Shooting – Women’s 10m Air Pistol – 3 points
  2. Fencing – Women’s Individual Sabre – 3
  3. Gymnastics – Artistic – Men’s Team – 24
  4. Taekwondo – Men’s Welterweight 68-80kg – 3
  5. Swimming – Men’s 100-m backstroke – 6
  6. Taekwondo – Men +80kg – 3
  7. Gymnastics – Artistic Women’s Team – 24
  8. Fencing – Women’s Team Foil – 9
  9. Swimming – Men’s 200m Backstroke – 6
  10. Shooting – Women’s 25m Pistol – 3

Silver:

  1. Shooting – Women’s 10m Air Rifle – 2 points
  2. Archery – Women’s Recurve Team – 6
  3. Fencing – Women’s Individual Foil – 2
  4. Taekwondo – Women’s Featherweight 49-57kg – 2
  5. Fencing – Women’s Individual Sabre – 2
  6. Shooting – Mixed team air pistol – 4
  7. Swimming – Men’s 100-m backstroke – 4
  8. Swimming – Men’s 4×200 freestyle relay – 16
  9. Women’s 3×3 basketball – 12
  10. Men’s 3×3 basketball – 12
  11. Rowing – Women’s Pair – 4
  12. Rowing – Women’s Single Sculls – 2
  13. Fencing – Men’s Team Epee – 6
  14. Archery – Women’s Individual – 2

Bronze:

  1. Taekwondo – Men’s Flyweight -58kg – 1 point
  2. Fencing – Women’s Individual Foil – 1
  3. Diving – Men’s 10m Platform Synchro – 2
  4. Shooting – Mixed team air rifle – 2
  5. Judo, Women’s -70kg – 1
  6. Gymnastics, Men’s individual all around – 2
  7. Swimming – Men’s 100m Freestyle – 2
  8. Judo – Men’s 100kg – 1
  9. Gymnastics – Artistic – Women’s Individual All-Around – 2
  10. Judo – Men’s +100kg – 1

Total: 175 points


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2 replies
  1. Tom Walker
    Tom Walker says:

    Interesting ideas. I would also like to see a ranking more weight is given to events whose winners are objectively determined, rather than subject to judges’ opinions.

    • John Glowatz
      John Glowatz says:

      I hear you, seems like there is some merit to that. What would you have in mind specifically?

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