Delivering Sporting Excellence

The DeliveryDemon is not a natural spectator. Since it’s difficult to avoid reading about the Olympics, she has been indulging a habit of playing with statistics to get a different perspective of the medal tables.

All things being equal, a country with a large population has a greater chance of producing sporting greats. In a large population, there’s a greater likelihood of finding the extremes of sporting prowess, and the more excellent performers there are, the greater the competitive opportunities, so high performing athletes have the impetus to stretch towards their limits in order to excel at home. That means that a populous country which can afford its good athletes a degree of financial security is likely to figure high in the medal tables.

Conversely, a small country may produce a small number of excellent athletes but it is unlikely to have the breadth and depth of skills which a large country can produce.

The DeliveryDemon decided to explore the medal scores on the basis of which countries require the least  heads of population to produce a medal and to produce a gold medal. The results are interesting. On August 4th:

  • New Zealand comes top on golds and overall, with Slovenia in second place
  • The next few places in the gold table are occupied by various Eastern European countries
  • Eastern Europe also does well in the all medals table, but different countries appear, and Australia is quite highly placed
  • UK is 13th in the gold table and 14th in the medal table
  • USA is 19th in the gold table and 34th in the medal table
  • China is 30th in the gold table and 47th in the medal table
  • Slovakia, with no golds, is fifth in the medals table
  • It takes between 1.478 million and 192.376 million people to produce a gold medallist
  • It takes between .633 million and 403.398 million people to produce a medallist of any sort

So is there any meaningful insight here? Possibly.

  • Numbers matter but are not a guarantee of excellence.
  • Warrior countries seem to do well, whether the warrior characteristic comes through a nomadic and hunting culture or recent conflict
  • An outdoor lifestyle produces good sportspeople
  • Assuming that a medallist sits at the apex of a pyramid of active people, then the UK is probably not one of the most sedentary countries in Europe

Two areas the DeliveryDemon has not explored:

  • How does the medal count reflect the cost to a country of having a team in London
  • Does footballing prowess mirror or counterbalance athletic prowess, or is there no correlation.

Was this a useful exercise? The DeliveryDemon doesn’t really care, it was fun playing with the statistics.


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