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Olympic prediction: continued US domination (sort of)

August 11, 2008

It’s official. I have been bitten by the Olympic bug (better that than some of the other things biting people these days).

Being the huge nerd I am, I found this report interesting (especially since I did an undergrad economics project on this subject). Andrew Bernard, an economist at Dartmouth, makes predictions on the total number of medals, and total gold medals, countries can expect to win this Olympics. He bases his predictions on an economic model using four variables:

We show that over the last 40 years, national Olympic medal totals have been driven by four distinct factors: population, per capita income, past performance, and a host effect.

Basically, bigger countries have a larger pool of potential athletes to draw from (assuming Olympic talent is randomly distributed). I remember seeing an interview with a Chinese athlete who said something along the line of, “Even if you are one in a million there are still more than 1,000 others just like you [in China].”

Richer countries can spend more money on preparing for the Olympics than relatively poorer countries. Host countries also typically perform better than they otherwise would. And of course, past performance is important. Generally speaking, countries that did well in the past will continue to do well in the future. Think of it as Newton’s first law of Olympics.

Put all these factors together and it is not surprising that Bernard’s model shows China doing extremely well in the Olympics. He predicts they will be 3rd in the overall count, and first in the gold medal count:

Predicted Total Medals in Beijing

  1. U.S., 105
  2. Russia, 92
  3. China, 81
  4. Germany, 51
  5. Australia, 49

Predicted Gold Medals in Beijing

  1. China, 37
  2. U.S., 36
  3. Russia, 25
  4. Japan, 17
  5. Australia, 16

He is expecting almost half of China’s medals to be gold, which is pretty impressive. Given that his model was 96% accurate in the past two Olympic games these results should prove to be pretty close to right on the mark when the games are over. The overall idea of this model seems to be common sense, but every now and again it’s nice to see common sense validated by reality.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 12, 2008 4:01 am

    Success is simple. Do what’s right, the right way, at the right time.ArnoldGlasowArnold Glasow

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