The Three Keys to Winning Medals in the Olympic Games

More than 70 countries in the world have not won a medal at the Olympic Games. Chad, Bosnia, Bangladesh, Gambia are just a few examples. And it’s unlikely to change in 2020, because it’s a very uneven competition. If one looks at the table of historical medals, in addition, one is surprised that there are huge differences between some countries and others, which cannot be explained “a priori”. Why does Portugal have only 24 medals in all history and Belarus 84?

Academics have been holding their heads up for years trying to understand why some countries win more medals than others at the Olympics. Some talk about a factor of GDP per capita and others talk about population. makes sense: The more resources you have, the more money you can devote to the sport and the higher your chances of getting on the podium. The more people live in your country, the more talent is available and focused to select the best.

However, while these factors can help, they are not definitive. In the case of people who live in a country, if it is so crucial, Asia will focus a large part of the Olympic awards because it represents more than half of the world’s population. But it is not. India, with a population of 1.3 billion, did not receive a medal in 2004 and only two at the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016. Jamaica, by contrast, with a population of less than three million, won 11 medals in Brazil .

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And per capita GDP? It is undeniable that money plays an important role. Journalist Derek Thompson spoke onAtlantic OceanA “talent attraction” for rich countries, which have good infrastructure for athletes. It is common for the richest countries to win the most medals, as happened, for example, in 2008. The Economist Mark J. Perry I’ve already written that the medal table, like the income distribution, follows the Pareto distribution (not the normal distribution).

After all, money plays an important role in sports. Some competitions such as canoeing, cycling, sailing or horseback riding require huge expenses, so no developing country can dream of gold. This also has a negative impact on even the least expensive sports. According to Krishna’s study, a $1,000 per capita GDP increase is 0.06% more than medals. But it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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Cuba’s per capita does not reach $9,000 and took 11 athletes to the podium in 2016. Kenya’s case is even more extreme: it has $1,800 per capita GDP and has won 13 medalsHe is 15th in the medal table, behind Spain. By contrast, Singapore ($65,000) took home only a gold medal. Ireland, with a per capita GDP of $78,000 (largely due to low taxes for large corporations), is only two silvers. UAE (43,000) bronze.

Kenyan athlete Eliud Kipchoge won the 2016 Olympic Marathon (EFE)

Even in the European Union, where there is greater economic balance, The differences in the medal table are very large. why?

The 2016 Olympic Games website published an article confirming that five countries could win a medal for the first time: Kosovo (in judo), El Salvador (in swimming), Fiji and Samoa (in rugby) and Turkmenistan (in weightlifting). The message they carried was that any country could reach the top. But the numbers say otherwise. The last time the majority of countries podiumed the most was in 1960. In fact, only 85 countries (less than 45% of participants) won a medal in London in 2012.

in this book’Success and failure of countries in the Olympic GamesAnalyst Daniel Reichi proposed the WISE formula to explain the success of some countries in the Olympic Games. It called for the promotion of women’s participation in sports, the institutionalization of sports, the specialization of certain activities, and the adoption of an early strategy in those disciplines.

1. More women more medals

The more women present at the Olympics, the more options you have to win more medals. In fact, There are studies Which shows that the more equal a country is, the more options it has to win more medals. Proof of this is the Muslim countries that, with the exception of Iran and Turkey – some of which despite their high GDP per capita – get few medals.

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As of 2016, Iran has achieved 60 medals, all achieved by men. In Rio, Kimia Alizadeh made history when she became the first Iranian woman to stand on the podium at the Olympic Games by winning the bronze medal in taekwondo. In 2020, she fled the country “because of the hypocrisy, lies and injustice” she was subjected to in Iran.

Photo: The official opening of the Tokyo Olympics.  (EFE)
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Reich wrote a few years ago in ‘Washington Post“Chinese female athletes made up 51.1% of the Olympic team, the highest female participation rate in the world.”

2. A national plan to win

Countries that invest money in foundations, federations and sports facilities have a better chance of winning more medals. The United Kingdom is the best example of this. At the end of the twentieth century they decided to change their strategy after the failures of Atlanta, Sydney (taking only 28 medals) and Athens (30), and They started watering the sports structure with money. Little by little the results began to appear.

In 1996 they were 36th in the medal table. In Beijing in 2008 they took 47 medals, in fourth place and in those in London they climbed to the podium: third (65).

The Soviet Union is an example of the promotion of national sport – and other dictatorships and authoritarian regimes. North Korea won twice as many medals as India. The Soviet Union and Cuba, for example, have always achieved a good result. to me Sean Bian“Countries that lack political freedom and civil rights tend to do better at the Olympics,” an analyst at Illinois Wesleyan University. The statement attributes this to the fact that international events are important for two reasons: to increase national sentiment and to promote a positive image of the country abroad.

3. You can’t beat everything: Specialization

Most countries focus their resources on one type of sport, as shown This is an interesting Goldman Sachs report For the 2016 Olympics, many focus on their comparative advantage. More than a third of the medals won by Australia were in swimming. China won nearly half of the gold medals in weightlifting and Turkey the most podiums in wrestling.

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On the other hand, unless a country has many resources, it is best to focus on sports that reward multiple medals. For example, team games such as hockey, football or basketball are expensive because there are many players and only add one medal to the medal table, compared to other games such as swimming or athletics. Michael Phelps awarded the United States 28 medals. Paw Gasol, one of the best Spanish athletes in history, “only” has three.

Photo: Photo: El Confidencial Diseño.
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“Poor or smaller countries tend to focus more precisely,” Reich wrote. “For example, Ethiopia invests in athletics: the forty-five medals it won in the Olympic Games were in that sport, many of them in long-distance races. Jamaica won all but three of the races’ medals. Cuba focuses on boxing, winning 73 of the 226 medals it has achieved in all history. Thanks to that, despite being far from being one of the most populous countries in Latin America, it has won more medals than Argentina, Brazil or Mexico.”

To do this, however, there must be A national interest in allocating resources to sport. For many developing countries, this represents a “trade off” that is sometimes not profitable. India, for example, is a country that specializes in hockey. But the switch from natural turf to synthetic turf – which is much more expensive – at the 1976 Olympics left the Asian country far behind.

As sports psychologist Madhuli Kulkarni used to say, euronews In 2012, sport was never a priority for most Indians. In fact, we have a saying in Hindi: “Kheloge kudoge to honge kharab, padhoge likhoge to banoge nawab”, which means that You will take your life if you play games, but if you study or do well in school, you will be king.”

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