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Blog || The medal table at the Winter Olympics 2014 – significance, prognoses and relative performance in Sochi

By Professor Klaus Nielsen

The Olympics is the ultimate performance test of national elite sport systems. Everywhere governments see the medal table as the most important indicator of the standing of the national in the international sporting arms race.  Of course, the Summer Olympics is most important in this respect because all nations compete on a more or less level playing field contrary to the Winter Olympics where climatic and geographical circumstances impact crucially on national competitiveness. However, there is increasing attention and also increasing resources being invested into efforts to do well in the Winter Olympics, at least in the top sporting nations and nations with climatic and geographical conditions that make winter sports possible. This includes USA, Canada, Japan, China and South Korea in addition to most European countries. For those countries the medal table at the Winter Olympics in Sochi will be scrutinized with almost as much interest as the London Olympics results.

The number of medals per nation at the Summer Olympics depends to a large degree on macro societal factors such as GDP and population. The research literature shows that more than 50% of the outcome can be explained by such factors. If additional explanatory variables such as population density, political regime, religion and host effect are included up to 70% of the results can be explained. Part of the rest can be explained by culture and sport specific factors such as the sports and disciplines included in the Olympics. All these factors are independent of the relative efficiency of the national elite sport systems which may explain at maximum 20-25% of the outcome. However, this is what can be influenced by sports policy. This includes factors such as financial support, governance, organisation and structure of sport policies, talent identification and development, support for full time athletic careers, training facilities, coaching provision and coach development, and scientific research and innovation. The final medal table at the Winter Olympics will be seen as a measure of the success of national efforts to develop an efficient elite sports system.

Whereas a multitude of prognoses of the medal table in Summer Olympic Games exists only a few similar exercises have been made to predict the medal table at Winter Olympics. The French economist Wladimir Andreff has made an impressive effort to develop a useful model (Andreff, 2013). In addition to GDP and income his model includes availability of winter sport facilities as an explanatory variable in addition to a few other less important variables. Also the effect of access to mountains within the borders of nation states was tested but proved to be indecisive. This model can explain the results of previous Winter Olympics to a degree on par with the prevalent prognoses of the results at Summer Olympics.

USA 36
Germany 28
Canada 27
Russia 24
Norway 24
Austria 15
Swede 13
France 12
China 11
South Korea 11
Switzerland 9
Japan 7
Italy 7
Holland 6
Poland 6
Czech Republic 6
Finland 5
Australia 3
Slovenia 2
Croatia 2
Slovakia 2
Belarus 1

A completely different method to predict the results is based on recent results. Below is such a prognosis which is based on results at world championships last season and results in world cup competitions etc. in this season in all the 98 disciplines at the program at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. In addition, the effect of the home advantage of the host nation is taken into consideration. The methodology is detailed in the appendix.

Medals 2013 (world championships)

Norway 17 7 10 34
USA 13 7 10 30
Germany 9 7 10 26
Canada 7 11 10 28
Russia 7 5 11 22
France 6 7 5 18
Holland 6 7 4 17
South Korea 6 5 1 12
Chiona 6 1 2 9
Switzerland 4 6 10
Austria 3 7 6 16
Sweden 3 7 2 12
Slovenia 2 3 2 7
Great Britain 2 1 2 5
Poland 1 3 3 7
Australia 1 1 2 4
Kazakhstan 1 1 2 4
Czech Republic 1 1 1 3
Ukraine 1 1 3 5
Finland 1 3 4
Belarus 1 4
Japan 4 4 8
Italy 4 3 7
Latvia 1 1 2
Croatia 1 1
Spain 1 1

Season 2013/14 (World Cup etc.)

USA 15 11 11 37
Germany 14 8 8 30
Norway 13 16 9 38
Canada 10 14 6 30
Russia 8 5 15 28
South Korea 6 4 1 11
Holland 5 4 5 14
Switzerland 4 6 3 13
France 4 2 3 9
Austria 3 4 6 13
China 3 3 4 10
Sweden 2 2 4 8
Slovenia 2 1 3
Great Britain 1 1 2 4
Poland 4 4
Australia 1 1 2 4
Kazakhstan 1 1
Czech Republic 3 2 3 8
Ukraine 1 1
Finland 2 2 4
Belarus 2 1 3
Japan 1 2 5 8
Italy 2 5 7
Latvia 1 1 2
Liechtenstein 2 1 3
Slovakia 1 1

Medal table Olympics 2014 (prognosis)

Norway 35
USA 33
Russia 30
Canada 29
Germany 27
Holland 16
Austria 15
France 13
South Korea 11
Switzerland 10
Sweden 10
China 9
Italy 8
Japan 7
Poland 6
Slovenia 5
Great Britain 5
Czech Republic 5
Australia 4
Finland 4
Kazakhstan 3
Belarus 2
Latvia 2
Ukraine 2
Croatia 1
Liechtenstein 1

The main difference between the prognosis based on macro societal factors and the prognosis based on previous results corrected for host country effect is that the latter predicts more medals to Norway, Russia and Holland. In addition, the results based prognosis predicts five medals to Great Britain. It may be a mistake that Great Britain is not listed in Andreff’s prognosis. The final medal table will show the explanatory power of the best available macro societal model compared to a results based model stressing the historical performance of different elite sport models.

The results from the first days of competitions in Sochi give an indication of the performance of each nation. This can be compared with the various prognoses. In the table below the total number of medals in the 55 disciplines which have been decided up to Sunday 16 Feb are compared with the results in the same disciplines in world championships 2013.  The table shows that Holland is the country with the most improved performance compared to last year’s world championships whereas the performance of Norway is much worse than last year. Other nations who have performed better than what you would expect from last year’s results are Sweden and Belarus. In addition to Norway, the other two countries who have significantly underperformed are South Korea and Canada.

Medals Olympics 2014 (after Wednesday 19th Feb) and medals at the same disciplines in world championships 2013

2014 (Olympics) 2013 (world champs) Total (difference)
G S B Total G S B Total
Germany 8 3 4 15 7 6 8 21 -6
Holland 6 7 9 22 5 6 2 13 9
Norway 9 4 7 20 14 6 9 29 -9
Switzerland 6 3 1 10 2 3 0 5 5
Russia 6 9 7 22 6 2 10 18 4
Canada 5 9 4 18 6 8 9 23 -5
USA 7 5 11 23 11 6 6 23 0
Poland 4 0 0 4 1 1 2 4 0
China 3 2 1 6 4 1 2 7 0
Belarus 5 0 1 6 1 0 0 1 5
Sweden 2 5 4 11 0 6 1 7 4
Austria 2 6 1 9 2 6 5 13 -4
France 3 2 6 11 4 4 4 12 -1
Japan 1 4 2 7 0 4 2 6 1
Czech Republic 2 4 2 8 1 1 1 3 5
Slovenia 2 1 4 7 1 3 2 6 1
South Korea 2 1 1 4 5 4 0 9 -5
Great Britain 1 0 1 2 1 1 0 2 0
Slovakia 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1
Italy 0 2 5 7 0 3 1 4 3
Finland 1 3 0 4 1 0 3 4 -1
Latvia 0 1 2 3 0 1 1 2 1
Australia 0 2 1 3 1 1 2 4 -1
Croatia 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 1
Kazakstan 0 0 1 1 1 1 1 3 -2
Ukraine 0 0 1 1 1 0 3 4 -3
Spain 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 -1

This table will be updated daily at http://www.bbk.ac.uk/management/our-staff/academics/nielsen

A concluding article will be posted on the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre website presenting a final medal analysis when the Sochi Olympics are completed.

Sources:

Andreff, W (2013): “Economic development as major determinant of Olympic medal wins: predicting performances of Russian and Chinese teams at Sochi Games”. Journal International Journal of Economic Policy in Emerging Economies 2013.

Appendix:

The 2013 medals table is based on the results from world championships in the 98 disciplines at the programme of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. World championships were organized in all 98 disciplines in 2013 so the medals table gives an almost perfect measure of the relative performance level of nations in the year preceding the 2014 Games. There are two minor problems though. First, in snowboard many of the top performers in halfpipe and slopestyle in the Olympics compete in X games and World Snowboard Tour but do not take part in world championships organized by the International Ski Federation (FIS). Second, whereas all the best professional ice hockey players participate in the Olympic Games, this is not so in the annual world championships which take place at the same time as the final play-off games in the National Hockey League (NHL) and players from the play-off teams are not eligible for their respective countries in the world championships. These two factors mean that the medal table from the world championships in 2013 underestimate the medal tally of USA and Canada. Of course, the mirror image is that the medal tables of other countries are equally overestimated.

The medals table for the 2013/14 season prior to the Olympics is calculated on the basis of standings in World Cup competitions where this exists and is relevant.  This is unambiguous in most sports (biathlon, alpine skiing, speed skating, short track, bobsleigh, skeleton and luge and most disciplines in freestyle and snowboard). However in 34 of the 98 disciplines other methods must be used in order to achieve a similar measure of the performance standings in the current season so far:

  • Cross-country skiing: The world cup is organized in two disciplines, sprint and distance, and all competitions in classical and free style are included. At the Olympics, the competitions in each discipline take place in either classical or free style. In order to get an appropriate measure of the standings in the season so far in the Olympic disciplines, only results during this season at each distance in the style competed at the 2014 Games are included.  In the longest distance (50 km for men, 30 km for women) there have been no world cup competitions this year. The results from the last world cup competition at this distance (Oslo, march 2013) are included instead.
  • Nordic combined and ski jumping: The world cup standings include results from competitions in both LH (Large Hill) and NH (Normal Hill). At the Olympics there are competitions in each category. The accumulated world cup points from each category is the basis for inclusion in the medals table for the 2013/14 season so far.
  • Freestyle: In halfpipe (men), David Wise won the world championships 2013, X-games 2014 and the last world cup competition prior to the Olympics, and tops the list even if he is not in top 3 in the world cup standings. In slopestyle (women), Kaya Turski won the world championships 2013, X-games 2014 and tops the list even if she is not in top 3 in the world cup standings. Apart from this the medals table follows the world cup standings.
  • Snowboard: In halfpipe and slopestyle (men and women) the medals list is an estimate based on a combination of X games and world cup results.
  • Figure skating: the medals list is based on season’s best in all disciplines.
  • Curling: The non-European nations who won medals at last year’s world championships achieve the same medals. Apart from this the medals table is based on the results from this season’s European championships 2013.
  • Men’s ice hockey: This is an estimate based on the team rosters of the participating nations: 1. Russia, 2. Canada, 3. USA.
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