Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Medals per athlete, 2012 Olympics

I'm not surprised this statistic hasn't gotten a lot of attention so far, even though it's probably the fairest way to compare across countries.

Update: I'm not sure if this is a fairer measure, but here's medals won per million citizens. North Korea is still looking pretty solid, but Hungary's stomping the world.

Oh, and what the hell, here's the number of medals divided by nominal GDP, as reported in the CIA World Factbook.


David Steven said...
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nerdbound said...

Sorry, why is that the fairest way to compare across countries? That seems like a metric that incentivizes countries squeezing out marginal contenders. And indeed, I'd assume that only the very very best can become athletes in North Korea due to oppression... But that's not the same as skill!

Maybe medals / population?

Tim Hundsdorfer said...

Since when is "Making Grass Soup" an olympic event?

They also have a clear lead in Nuclear Weapons/Citizen that gets enough to eat.

Seth Masket said...

Nerdbound, I would assume that only the very very best can become athletes in the United States, as well. It's not like we just put anyone on the Olympic team as long as their check clears. And yes, oppression is not the same as skill, but you can't win Olympic contests with oppression, and they're still winning!

Anonymous said...

It is truly amazing what forced labor can do. I bet Phelps would swim even faster if he knew his family would be sent to a prison camp if he didn't win.

Robert said...

You've got it all wrong, Anonymous. Elite athletes are virtuosos, and you can't get that kind of talent to express itself by force. That's like suggesting you could produce a few Michelangelos by getting a million art students to paint at gunpoint.

What an oppressive regime can do, and North Korea apparently has done, is to direct economic output away from bettering the lives of its citizens generally and into this little vanity project.

Seth Masket said...

Dictatorship is neither a necessary or a sufficient condition for winning Olympic medals. Uzbekistan has 50 athletes in competition right now but has only received one medal - a bronze. Both Syria and Turkmenistan have ten athletes but no medals. Venezuela has 69 athletes but only 1 medal so far. Iran: 53 athletes, no medals.

For whatever reason, North Korea has acquired a relatively high number of medals, despite being a small and very poor nation. I have little knowledge of how that nation goes about finding or training its athletes, but the idea that they win events because they fear for their safety or their family's safety strikes me as a bit silly. Putting a gun to my head wouldn't make me a faster swimmer than Michael Phelps. And Phelps, meanwhile, would likely lead a pretty decent life if not for swimming, but still manages to find sufficient motivation to compete well.

Anonymous said...

I would imagine that there are plenty of people genuinely devoted enough to their Dear Leader in North Korea to train 12 hours a day without them having to threaten people.

That being said, the position of athletes in totalitarian regimes is still quite different to those of athletes. Wu Minxia was completely separated from her parents for a year so she could focus on diving. And since she has a gold medal, China must be doing something right.

Anonymous said...

See here for full per capita medal table: http://www.medalspercapita.com/

Slovenia, NZ, Jamaica now leading...

Anonymous said...

Did the Washington Monthly steal your blog post?


The Steel General said...

I must say, I love how Americans always try to paint other countries into parodies of themselves.
Sure, North-Korea is a dictatorship, but there are striking similarities with the USA:
In North Korea, athletes seem driven by a bizarre love for their leader.
In the USA, they are driven by a bizarre love for capitalism (the perverse version), christianity (the sanctimonious version) and patriotism (the harmful version),

In both countries, the poor are being made to suffer for the elites (and no, college professors are NOT elites, the Koch bros, and Mitt Rmoney with an Olympic horse are elites)
In America, this is also because of a warped ideology: Poor people are lazy, as long as you make a profit, pollution is ok, harsh work conditions are ok.

There's a difference: America doesn't even pretend to take care of it's weakest members, it's celebrated a culture of despising the poor.
And America doesn't NEED to do this, because its a very rich nation.
NK is a very poor nation.

So, with less resources, wealth, they really outperform the USA.
As does China.

In America, especially poor whites, are being tricked to vote time and again, to give more money to millionaires. They are told that this is "patriotism". The poor are sacrificed in wars, cos it's not the senators kids who are dying on the battlefield.
And this is a RICH country!! (Not the richest, but still)
There's even a consensus that poor people are lazy, useless, deserve to be killed, shunned, discriminated against.

Americans should try to let go of the ridiculous distorted views they have of other countries.
Sure, North Korea is a vicious dictatorship, with occasional famines.

And America is a DEMOCRACY! So, time and again, every 4 years, Americans, not just the elite, CHOOSE to keep this harmful system in place.

America should be HUGELY ashamed of itself by letting 20 (TWENTY) PERCENT of their population live under the poverty line. And this is CELEBRATED AS PATRIOTISM, or shrugged off with racism, with the absurdest hypocrisies ("oooh it's tragic, but those people are just ... stupid, you know?") Sometimes even with caveats like "and asians are smarter than us, so it's fair"

Besides, you can't even do manned space flight no more.

Now watch as childish taunts like "why don't you go live there!" will fly.

SurveyTool said...

These are fascinating and will be really helpful.