Who will take the laurels at the 2012 Olympics?
By John Hawksworth, Chief Economist
Less than 50 days to go to the 2012 Olympics and interest is rising as to how many medals Britain and others countries will win in London this summer. As a contribution to this debate, we have just published a paper that presents econometric analysis on the determinants of past Olympic performance and uses this to produce some benchmarks against which performance at the 2012 Olympics can be judged. This updates similar analysis we produced around the time of the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics.
The following economic and political factors were found to be statistically significant in explaining the number of medals won by each country at previous Olympic Games:
- average income levels (measured by GDP per capita at PPP exchange rates);
- whether the country was previously part of the former Soviet/communist bloc (including Cuba and China); and
- whether the country was the host nation.
In general, the number of medals won increases with the population and economic wealth of the country, but less than proportionately: David can sometimes beat Goliath in the Olympic arena, although superpowers like the US, China and Russia continue to dominate at the top of the medal table.
Many countries from the former Soviet bloc continued to outperform relative to the size of their economies at the Beijing Olympics, despite it being held nearly two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This effect is fading, however, and is no longer statistically significant if recent Olympic performance is also included in the model. We can, however, see a similar effect at work in China more recently, where state support contributed greatly to their Olympic success in Beijing: sport it seems is one area where planned economies can succeed.
Now it is no longer the host country, however, China may find it more difficult to stay ahead of the US (as it did in Beijing on gold medals although not total medals). Indeed we find that host nations generally ‘punch above their weight’ at the Olympics, which bodes well for the British team in London.
As summarised in the table below, our model suggests that the British team could win around 54 medals this time around, beating an already exceptionally good performance of 47 medals in Beijing. This would still leave Britain in fourth place in the total medal table, behind the US, China and Russia, but ahead of old rivals Australia and Germany according to the model projections. There is a stark contrast with the experience of Sydney 2000 where we only won around half as many medals as host nation Australia.
But all models are subject to margins of error and they can never take full account of the human factor of exceptional individual performances – so we will be only too pleased if the British team can beat our model projection in London this summer!
Olympic medal projections for London 2012 relative to Beijing 2008
Source: PwC model estimates – we focus on total medals won since this gives much more data on which to base a statistical model than just looking at gold medals, which tend to be the basis of official medal table rankings.
Contact: John Hawksworth | Tel: +44 (0)20 7213 1650