Want to Win Olympic Medals? Fix Your Economy First
Steven Perlberg of Business Insider quotes a private research note by ConvergEx’s Nick Colas on the correlation between Olympic success and economic strength. “The Winter Olympics are a useful backdrop for case studies on the relationship between athletic performance and economic progress in emerging markets around the world,” writes Colas. “We’ve analyzed the medal count by country since the inaugural Winter Games in 1924, and indeed the results show that athletes rarely make it to the podium until their respective countries experience economic progress and stability.” A few case studies from Colas’s note:
Japan’s Winter Olympic performance history tells a post-WWII recovery story. The country competed in three Winter Games (1928, 1932 and 1936) before it won its first medal – silver – in 1956. Japanese athletes didn’t earn any additional medals until the 1972 games, which the country hosted, and have been consistently making an appearance on the podium since 1980. Japan won its first medal when it was taking off as an emerging economy and getting its economic act together following WWII. Industrialism in the country picked up rapidly following the war, and the Olympic medal consistency coincided with the consumption boom in the 1980s.
South Korea’s Winter Games story is similar to Japan’s, just two to three decades later. However, it did take South Koreans a bit longer to arrive on the podium – the country competed in 10 Winter Games before winning four medals in 1992 (two gold, one silver and one bronze). Since then, South Korea has performed consistently well, earning a peak of 14 medals at the 2010 Games in Vancouver. Just as the country fully emerged from the shadow of the Korean War, its athletes were solid performers on the global stage.
China’s performance history is also emblematic of a developing economy gaining critical mass in sport and economic growth. Like South Korea, China won its first Winter Olympic medals in 1992 (three silvers). Chinese athletes had competed in three prior games dating back to 1980 before the emerged on the podium in Albertville, France. Also similar to South Korea, China consistently earned medals in subsequent Games, recording a high of 11 at the 2010 Olympics. China underwent a host of economic reform initiatives in the 1970s and 1980s; by the 1990s the country experienced rapid economic growth (10.4% GDP) even with skyrocketing inflation that topped 20% in 1994. Again, consistent trips to the Winter Olympics podium went hand-in-hand with an emerging economy.