Beijing olympics gold medal count bar


Gold Medal Count
(top performers only, last update 25 Aug 2008)

of gold


Gold per

The original Olympic charter forbade medal counts that include a ranking per country (read more). But many media do publish them. All of them are inofficial - so is the present one. The European Union entry is the sum of the gold counts of all EU members as of 2008 (in GDP rankings etc the EU is normally also listed as a single entity). See also: 2004 Medal Count, and All Time Gold Counts of 2006, 2008 and 2010.

Even more gold expected for smaller but unified EU team. Doesn't the high EU gold count just reflect the large number of competitors sent by all the individual EU nations? Not at all! It's quality, not quantity that matters. If the EU sent only its three best athletes per individual event, and only one all-star team per team event, the EU gold count would actually increase, since almost all individual events are won by one of the top three favorites (sending additional inferior athletes is usually in vain), and the unified EU all-star teams also would win many team events (4 x 100m relays etc) currently won by non-EU teams.

In fact, team events bias the Olympics towards large countries dominating certain fields, in particular, gymnastics or swimming, where competitions are highly correlated in the sense that single athletes frequently win several different events. The most highly decorated athletes are either Soviet gymnasts or US swimmers who collected many team medals (relays etc) in addition to several individual medals - impossible for a superb athlete from a small country such as Denmark, or for the lone "king of athletes" who wins the 10-event Decathlon, but nothing else.

Note that we can safely ignore silver and bronze medals used in (inofficial) IOC rankings to break the tie where gold counts are equal. (If we added the silver and bronze counts of individual EU nations, we'd overestimate what a unified EU would get, since in events with only one team per nation (e.g., handball) the unified EU could not win silver or bronze in addition to the gold.)

Per capita rankings have been traditionally dominated by Norway (e.g., Winter 1998: 10 golds / 5 million people = 2000 golds per billion capita) and East Germany (e.g., Summer 1980: 47 golds / 16 million people = 2900 gpbc, 1988: 2300 gpbc). In some Olympics very small countries with a single gold-winning athlete achieved even higher values, but not on a routine basis - these were statistical flukes.

J. Schmidhuber, 21 August 2008

EU flag EU 87 491 177
Chinese flag China 51 1321 39
USA flag USA 36 303 118
Jamaica flag Jamaica 6 3 2000
Earth All 302 6600 45

Disclaimer: Do not take medal counts seriously! They are biased in so many ways. In fact, they reflect which lobbies have been most successful in adding niche sports (normally ignored by most people) to the Olympic program. For example, the swimming lobby has been more influential than the sprinting lobby: there are 4 different gold medals for 100m swimming, most of them for suboptimal swimming styles (some of them frequently won by the same person), plus even more golds for medleys and relays mixing these styles in various ways. This is akin to having 4 different 100m sprint events, 3 of them with suboptimal running styles (hopping? running backwards? with hands tied?), plus lots of additional style combinations in form of relays etc. Same for 200m etc. The weight lifting lobby also was successful: there are 8 separate golds for athletes up to 56kg, 62kg, 69kg ... This is akin to having 8 separate 100m sprints for runners whose legs are shorter than 50cm, 60cm, 70cm ... :-) The gold medal for football (soccer), the world's most popular and therefore most competitive sport, officially isn't worth any more than the gold medals for extreme niche sports such as "women weightlifting 49kg-53kg" or "swimming 4x100 individual medley", which are actively pursued by relatively few contestants around the world (of course, it is easier to be #1 in a sport where there are few active athletes). The countries that hosted the most Olympics have had the most influential lobbies - the host country usually can influence the program in a way that favors its own athletes. Expect the current bias to change towards a more Asian bias in the coming decades!