Predicting the Medal Count

Economists love to make predictions about the Summer Olympics, but the Winter Games generally attract less attention. One economist, however, does have some predictions for this year’s Games. Daniel Johnson analyzes country population, income per capita, climate, political structure, and host-nation advantage to generate medal count predictions — his “model demonstrated 94% accuracy between predicted and actual national medal counts” for the last five Olympics. At this year’s games, Johnson expects Canada to win the medal game with 27 medals, and the United States to tie Norway for second. Johnson’s model also predicts that the Nordic countries will make big gains over previous years, while Germany and China will slip in the medal count. (HT: Josh Levin and Kiril Rusev.) [%comments]


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  1. susan says:

    In Ancient Greece, as with the Cold War, the medal count was used as an indicator of the superiority of one political system over another. Today, “the count” is an anachronism, particularly with the multiple dual citizenship or immigration to increase probability of getting on a country’s team. It is even more so with the coaches as very much invested in the capitalistic system. China is about the lone hold out with a national push and policy toward every increasing their medal count.

    The nationalistic medal count reminds me of a line from a John Christopher novel, “The Guardians” commenting on the fostering of team loyalty as a means to control (and express) pent up emotions/frustrations.

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  2. AK says:

    Susan, you say that “China is about the lone hold out with a national push and policy toward every increasing their medal count.”

    This is inaccurate. As has been widely reported, Canada poured hundreds of millions of dollars into their Own The Podium program, and the US, by far the best capitalized Olympic Team, spends millions more in an effort to capture gold, silver, and bronze for its athletes. True, the USOC does not receive government funding, but any notion that the Chinese are somehow alone in their nationalistic desire to get on the podium.

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  3. Andreas Kitzing says:

    Nice stats… However, from a German point of view, let’s hope that Johnsons forecast regarding the German medal decline is wrong. 😉
    Best wishes from Hamburg, Germany,

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  4. Rodney Fort says:

    I hope Freakonomics will return to this prediction to see how it actually works out AFTER the Vancouver games are over.

    Too often, soothsayers get their day in the sun, but then are never called to task for their actual merit.

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  5. Ocean says:

    Are there any prediction markets for the number of medals? As in, where many people can make their predictions? It would be interesting to see how these perform in comparison. Although 94% accuracy is hard to beat.

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  6. DonBoy says:

    You should compare with Nate Silver’s analysis at his blog He’s projecting Canada and USA tied (!) right now (he updates his projections as things happen), with Germany a close third and Norway a big gap behind them.

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  7. Michael says:

    @6: Ditto. Nate’s the man where sports are concerned…actually where politics are concerned too.

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  8. Economists Do It With Models says:

    Is it bad that all I can think about is that I wonder what the R-squared of the regression that this guy is running is??

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