Canada’s Accomplishments At the Olympics: Even Greater Than the Numbers Would Suggest at First Glance

28 02 2010

Canada’s Accomplishments At the Olympics Are Even Greater Than the Numbers Would Suggest at First Glance

Earlier this week, there was a lot of hand-wringing in the media about Canada’s alleged underperformance in the Olympics. I would imagine that the two gold medals in hockey will have dissipated this negativity, so perhaps posting these stats is now a moot point. However, one thing that bugged me about the complaints that Canada was third or fourth in the medal rankings is that so many of the complainers have overlooked an incredibly obvious fact, namely, that Canada’s population is rather small. In terms of medals per capita, Canada’s performance has been quite respectable. I was left wondering whether the give gold medals out to countries for having statistically illiterate populations.

Here are the medal ranking at 18:00 ET Sunday, 28 February.

Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
United States 9 15 13 37
Germany 10 13 7 30
Canada 14 7 5 26
Norway 9 8 6 23
Austria 4 6 6 16
Russia 3 5 7 15
South Korea 6 6 2 14
China 5 2 4 11
France 5 2 4 11

Here are the populations of these countries, courtesy of the CIA Factbook.

Country Population
United States 308,772,000
Germany 81,757,600
Canada 34,017,000
Norway 4,860,500
Austria 8,372,930
Russia 141,927,297
South Korea 49,773,145
China 1,336,090,000
France 65,447,374

It seems to me that the following are the stats we should really be paying attention to:

Country Medals Per Million Inhabitants
Norway 4.732023454
Austria 1.910920072
Canada 0.76432372
Germany 0.366938364
South Korea 0.281276178
France 0.16807397
United States 0.119829518
Russia 0.105687914
China 0.008232978

Or, if you prefer to focus on gold medals

Country Gold Medals Per Million Inhabitants
Norway 1.851661352
Austria 0.477730018
Canada 0.411558926
Germany 0.122312788
South Korea 0.120546933
France 0.076397259
United States 0.029147721
Russia 0.021137583
China 0.003742263

What does doing well in the Winter Olympics say about a country aside from suggesting that it has lots of snow? Canadians now need to have a debate about how what the most successful Winter Olympic countries have in common and what Canadians can do better in the future. My concern is that the excellent performance of a few dozen Canadian athletes at the Olympics will cause Canada to rest on its laurels. We really need to address the problem of our sedentary population.In 1973, Canadian TV stations carried a very controversial ad showing that the average 30-year old Canadian was about as fit as the average 60-year old Swede. The ad was soon pulled because it was deemed to be offensive to Canada. Since 1973, the problem of couch potatoism in Canada has only become worse. So what are the Norwegians doing right? What are the Americans, who have 300 million people, doing so wrong?


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4 responses

28 02 2010
Mike Green

Dr. Smith. Although I am an American Historian. I am going back to get another MA in Public History. I am also considering more study about Canadian History. I have been following your teaching blog about Canadian history in your undergrad classes. Can you email me suggestions, when you have time of course, about some texts to be used in undergrad classes. And some good texts for a grad student like myself to obtain more knowledge about Canadian History.

Mike Green

2 03 2010
andrewdsmith

Hi Mike. Sorry to be so long in replying. Could you email me?

5 03 2010
Alan MacEachern

Dear Andrew:
Interesting number-crunching re medals / million people. But doesn’t your analysis accidentally discriminate against higher-population countries like the US? Even if Americans held the top 100 spots in the world ranking of some sport, they’d only be allowed to have a small percentage of those athletes represent them at the Olympics. Nations with smaller populations have a greater chance of having their top athletes represent them. (It’s kind of like how PEIers are overrepresented in the House of Commons.)

By the by, something I wrote about the Olympics & history that appeared yesterday:
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/do-you-remember-where-you-were/article1488482/

Cheers, Alan

6 03 2010
andrewdsmith

Hi Alan,

I was going to post a link to your Globe piece, but you beat me too it here.

I remember reading that athletes from very small nations do have a statistically higher chance of getting a medal. However, IIRC, this applies to countries with populations that are several orders of magnitude smaller than that of Canada. The difference between the populations of Canada and the USA is only one order of magnitude.

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