One Week In – Who’s Really Winning the Olympics?

Over the last few years a lot of people have started looking at new ways of visualizing the Olympics (myself included, of course), but almost everywhere you look will still show a standard medal table to try to sum up how everyone is doing in the Olympics. Historically, most tables would be sorted by Total Medals, though recently, I’ve been seeing more and more sorted by Gold Medals because everyone agrees that a Gold is worth more than a (few) Bronzes : )

Pretty much any way you look at it, Norway is killing it this year in PyeongChang and they top the traditional medal tables both ways. The rest of the top 10 doesn’t look that much different, though – with the notable exception of the Olympic Athletes from Russia. They’ve won 11 medals, but 8 of them are Bronze and no Golds.


However, I’ve always maintained that a simple medal table is not nearly sufficient to get a handle on who’s actually having a fantastic Olympics. No one would argue that Norway shouldn’t get recognition for their efforts so far, but is there anyone who is winning a higher than average percentage of their events, even if they haven’t won a ton of medals to make it to the top of the medal table? This tends to have a greater shakeup during the Summer Games where there are far more countries participating and far more events, but there are still some interesting changes when you start to account for the number of events a country is participating in with how many athletes.

My Olympic Achievement Coefficient calculates an achievement ranking based on weighted medal counts per potential medal, with a bonus to delegations that participate in a diversity of sports and have a large number of athletes, to reward the amount of effort it takes to support a delegation that large.

When you do things this way, whoever is at the very top tends not to change a ton, and that’s the case here. Norway is just having a fantastic Olympic Games. But the top 10 or 20 does tend to shift around a little bit. Usually what we see is large delegations that have won a decent number of medals, but at a lower than average rate given their potential slide down the rankings a little bit and smaller delegations who haven’t had a ton of opportunity, but have done well with what they have move up.

You can see how this plays out when you look through the table below at not only how many medals each country has won, but how many events they entered with how many athletes and how many potential medals that ended up being.

Medal Table ordered by the Olympic Achievement CoefficientOlympic Achievement Map


Then, when you start to look at the differential of the standard medal table rankings (here based on a Total Medal ranking vs Gold Medals) with the Olympic Achievement ranking, you start to see that several of the large countries in particular, fall down the rankings when you don’t look at a straight medal count. The US and Canada in particular have won a decent number of medals, but as the largest delegations (by far) have had far more opportunities to win medals than other countries.

For example, the US has 242 athletes in their delegation, participating in 104 events and with an opportunity to win 226 medals. Now, that would require sweeping in every event they enter, but it’s still technically possible. The US has won 10 medals as of today, weighted to 33 since half of them are Golds. Whereas Norway has 109 athletes participating in 46 events with 92 potential medals. And have won 26 medals (weighted to 71). And they have swept an event (Cross-country skiing Men’s 30 km skiathlon).

So Norway has fewer than half the number of athletes and are participating in half as many events as the US, but has won two and a half times the number of medals. That’s actually really incredible.

The Netherlands is also pretty crazy – in fact at one point in the last day or so, they’d jumped ahead of Norway in the Olympic Achievement index, and you can see why – they have only 34 athletes participating in 28 events, but have won 13 medals (weighted to 42). However, they also only participate in 4 sports – and every single one of their medals comes in Speed Skating and Short Track Speed Skating (technically different sports).

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 5.56.35 PM

When you look at this visually, you can see how clear it is that countries like the US and Canada have entered far more events than most other countries and countries like Norway and the Netherlands have won far more medals with much less opportunity. All told, it’s still pretty impressive that the US and Canada can be competitive in so many sports, which is why the coefficient gives a little bonus for diversity as well, but at least in terms of the Winter Games, it’s not quite enough to ‘win’.


So, even in my rankings, Norway is still winning, but I feel far more justified in saying so : )

One thought on “One Week In – Who’s Really Winning the Olympics?

  1. Kaushik

    Aloha Hannah, Your insights from Olympic data is very impressive because we get to know countries with less medals are doing better than we think. ☺


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