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
China61436
USA42436
Japan51020
Korea20318
ROC (Russia)14217
Top performing countries will be filled in as medals are awarded

China

Gold:

Shooting – Women’s 10m Air Rifle – 3 points
Weightlifting – Women’s 49kg – 6
Fencing – Women’s Individual Epee – 3
Weightlifting – Men’s 61kg – 6
Diving – Women’s 3m Springboard Synchro – 6
Weightlifting – Men’s 67kg – 6

Silver:

Shooting – Men’s 10m Air Rifle – 2 points

Bronze:

Shooting – Men’s 10m Air Pistol – 1 point
Shooting – Women’s 10m Air Pistol – 1
Shooting – Men’s 10m Air Rifle – 1
Taekwondo – Men’s Featherweight 58-68kg, – 1

Total: 36 points

USA

Gold:

Swimming – Men’s 400m Individual Medley – 6 points
Shooting – Men’s 10m Air Rifle – 3
Fencing – Women’s Individual Foil – 3
Taekwondo – Women’s Featherweight – 3

Silver:

Swimming – Men’s 400m Individual – 4 points
Swimming – Women’s 400m Individual Medley – 4 points

Bronze:

Swimming – Men’s 400m Freestyle – 2 points
Swimming – Women’s 400m Individual Medley – 2
Swimming – Women’s 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay – 8
Skateboarding – Men’s Street – 1

Total: 36 points

Korea

Gold:

Archery Mixed Team – 6 points

Archery – Women’s Recurve Team – 9

Bronze:

Taekwondo – Men’s Flyweight -58kg – 1 point
Fencing – Men’s Individual Sabre – 1
Judo – Men’s 66kg – 1

Total: 18 points

Japan

Gold:

Judo – Men’s 60kg – 3 points
Swimming – Women’s 400m Individual Medley – 6 points
Skateboarding – Men’s Street – 3
Judo – Women’s 52kg – 3
Judo – Men’s 66kg – 3

Silver:

Judo – Women’s 48kg – 2 points

Total: 20 points

ROC (Russia)

Gold:

Shooting – Women’s 10m Air Pistol – 3 points

Silver:

Shooting – Women’s 10m Air Rifle – 2 points
Archery – Women’s Recurve Team – 6
Fencing – Women’s Individual Foil – 2
Taekwondo – Women’s Featherweight 49-57kg – 2

Bronze:

Taekwondo – Men’s Flyweight -58kg – 1 point
Fencing – Women’s Individual Foil – 1

Total: 17 points


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