Thursday, August 14, 2008

Gross Domestic Gold

Earlier we mused about the connection between national strength and Olympic success. I suggested that Olympic success may, in fact, be little more than a distraction from domestic troubles. It does turn out, however, that there is a connection between national wealth and Olympic gold medals. The top 10 countries in GDP are similar to the top 10 in Olympic gold.

Gross Domestic Product rank, 2004:
  1. U.S.
  2. China
  3. Japan
  4. India
  5. Germany
  6. U.K.
  7. France
  8. Italy
  9. Brazil
  10. Russia
Gold medal count rank, Athens 2004
  1. U.S.
  2. China
  3. Russia
  4. Australia (gdp rank #17)
  5. Japan
  6. Germany
  7. France
  8. Italy
  9. South Korea (gdp rank #15)
  10. U.K.
Another question is who is squeezing the most medals out of their national economic resources. Among the top 10 gold medal winners, Australia fares the best. Here are the numbers.

World average = 166 billion in gross domestic product per gold medal.
  1. Australia 34 b/gm
  2. Russia 48 b/gm
  3. South Korea 95 b/gm
  4. Italy 105 b/gm
  5. France 150 b/gm
  6. Germany 175 b/gm
  7. U.K. 185 b/gm
  8. China 202 b/gm
  9. Japan 223 b/gm
  10. U.S. 305 b/gm

It could be equally interesting to look at population as a factor. China wins one gold for every 36.8 million inhabitants. The U.S. one gold medal for every 8.4 million. France, one for every 5.8 million. And Australia, one for every 1.25 million.

If anyone out there knows an economist, it would be interesting to see what spending where results in more athletic success. Does spending in health care have a direct influence? What about spending on athletic programs or facilities? Is there an inverse correlation between obesity and Olympic success? Does the existence of major professional sports leagues increase medal counts for a country? P.E. classes in elementary school? Presidential fitness programs? Regular church attendance (proving once and for all that, as in ancient Greece, the gods do determine outcomes)? etc.

As usual, what the numbers don't show could probably be the most interesting. Why is India not on the list of medal winners (in 2004 they won a single silver medal)? Is their sports program not developed? Are they primarily interested in sports, like cricket, that aren't included in the Olympics? Is their media infrastructure underdeveloped to the point that people just don't care since they can't watch the Olympics? Or (more likely) is it that their economic strength has come about suddenly and it will take a generation for their athletic might and infrastructure to catch up?

And what about doping? Are some countries further ahead of the anti-drug agencies (with genetic treatments, for example) than others?

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