Australia is one of the worst performers at the Olympics

BOO. Picture: Getty Images

It’s always interesting to explore the relationship between a country’s economic stature and its performance at a major sporting event.

And so, Francesco Garzarelli and Lorenzo Incoronato at Goldman Sachs looked at which countries have overperformed and which countries have underperformed in the Olympic Games relative to medal counts predicted by their economic strength.

They took the share of Olympic medals won by each nation participating from 1980 to 2012, and then measured the relative performance of countries, controlling for population, income per capita, how “efficiently run” a country is, and the “host country” effect, wherein host countries tend to win more medals than usual.

In the chart, the duo ranked the top 10 and bottom 10 countries in all sports relative to those economic measures. The heights of the bars show the difference between the actual number of medals won and the number of medals predicted by their model using the economic metrics. The labels show the average number of medals won by the country between 2000 and 2012.

Of course, all models are just approximations of the world. Naturally, one can’t always predict the exact number of medals a country is going to win based solely on economic measures. And the assumptions that go into building any model add more uncertainty.

Despite all that, it’s still fun to see which countries end up as outliers in the relationship between economic and sports success.

“As can be seen, among all countries taking part in the Olympics, US, China, and Russia appear to be punching above their weight, especially over the past 4 editions of the Games,” wrote Garzarelli and Incoronato.

Meanwhile, Australia, Venezuela, and Greece, the birthplace of the Olympics, “have a poor sporting performance in relation to what economic indicators say they could achieve.”

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