London olympics gold medal count bar

LONDON OLYMPICS 2012 Gold Medal Count


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 2012 (in GDP rankings etc the EU is normally also listed as a single entity). See also: EU medal tracker, Athens 2004 Medal Count, Beijing 2008 Medal Count, and All Time Gold Counts of 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012.

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.

Per capita rankings were dominated by East Germany (1976: 47 golds / 16 million people = 2900 golds per billion capita; 1980: 3500 gpbc; note that the number of golds per Games has grown by 64% since 1976). In some Olympics very small countries with a single gold-winning athlete/team achieved even higher values (Grenada 2012: 9000 gpmc, Liechtenstein 1980: 60600 gpbc), but not on a routine basis. The Summer Games averages of such statistical outliers are far below East Germany's average of 1900 gpbc.

J. Schmidhuber will be delighted if you use the data in this web page for educational, non-commercial purposes, including articles for Wikipedia etc, provided you link to the source. © 2012, based on very similar text from 2008.

EU flag EU 92 502 183
USA flag USA 46 311 148
Chinese flag China 38 1339 28
Jamaica flag Jamaica 4 3 1333
Earth All 302 7010 43

The man & woman with the most gold medals at single Olympics are Phelps (US) and Otto (Ger). The former won 8 of 302 Olympic events in 2008 (2.6% of all gold medals), the latter won 6 of 241 events in 1988 (2.5%). Both are swimmers and profited from many team events and the rapid inflation of gold medals per Games, from 43 golds in 1896 to 302 in 2008. Percentage-wise, however, other athletes were even more successful:

Top Winter Multiple Gold Medalists who won at least 5% of all gold medals at their Games: 1. 1924: Thunberg (Fin) won 3 of 16 Olympic events, that is, 18.8%. 2. 1936 Ballangrud (Nor) 3/17=17.6% 3. 1928 Thunberg (Fin) 2/14=14.3% 3. 1928 Grottumsbraten (Nor) 2/14=14.3% 3. 1932 Shea (US) 2/14=14.3% 3. 1932 Jaffee (US) 2/14=14.3% 7. 1980 Heiden (US) 5/38=13.2% 8. 1964 Skoblikova (USSR) 4/34=11.7% 9. 1956 Grishin (USSR) 2/25=8% 10. 1960 Grishin (USSR) 2/28=7.1% 11. 1992 Yegorova (Russia) 3/57=5.2% 12. 2002 Bjorndalen (Nor) 4/80=5%.

Top 10 Summer Athletes: 1. 1896 Schuhmann (Ger) 4/43=9.3% 2. 1896 Weingaertner (Ger) 3/43=7% 3. 1904 Heida (US) 5/96=5.2% 4. 1896 Burke (US) 2/43=4.7% 4. 1896 Garrett (US) 2/43=4.7% 4. 1896 Hajos (Hun) 2/43=4.7% 7. 1900 Kraenzlein (US) 4/90=4.4% 8. 1924 Nurmi (Fin) 5/126=4% 9. 1972 Spitz (US) 7/195=3.6% 10. 1900 Ewry (US) 3/90=3.3%.

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!