Countries like Sweden, Finland, and Denmark don’t just get high marks in quality of life — they also kill it at the Olympics.
According to computer scientist Craig Nevill-Manning’s site Medals Per Capita, if you rank the world’s nations by how many medals they have won per capita since 1896, three of the top five countries are Nordic countries.
The top five, in order:
Finland: 17,904 people per medal (302 medals, population: 5,407,040)
Sweden: 19,649 people per medal (483 medals, population: 9,490,683)
Hungary: 20,792 people per medal (475 medals, population: 9,962,000)
Denmark: 31,176 people per medal (179 medals, population: 5,580,516)
Bahamas: 32,150 people per medal (11 medals, population: 353,658)
Norway falls just outside the top five with 33,595 people per medal. When ranked by gold medals specifically, it comes in 5th, with Finland and Sweden ranked 1st and 3rd, respectively.
The main reason the Nordic nations have been so successful in the Olympics is the same reason many argue they’re successful in other domains: They’re tiny countries. One gold medal translates to a much greater medal-per-capita count in Finland (population: 5.4 million) than it does in the US (population: 313 million).
To put the domination in perspective: In order to match Finland’s medals per capita, the US would need to have earned an additional 15,000 medals throughout its Olympic history — a mind-boggling, if impossible achievement given that Medals Per Capita totals its current medal count at 2,401.
But Nordic countries are exceptionally successful in the Olympics, even without adjusting for population size. With just 1.6% of the US population, Finland has earned 12.5% of the US’s total medal count.
That over-representation is likely a testament to the snowy Northern European countries’ strength in winter sports. They do their best in cross-country skiing, ski jumping, and speed skating.
They can still hold their own in athletics and wrestling, however. In the 2016 games, Sweden currently sits at 9th place in medals per capita so far, and Denmark in 19th. Norway and Finland have yet to place.
That’s good news for the US if it has any hope of even making a dent in those additional 15,000 medals. Michael Phelps, we’re all counting on you.
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