Archives for olympics



Proud to Be American

Watching the Olympics in a foreign country (the U.K.) brings out the super-patriot in me.  I’m cheering for the U.S. athletes in each event, and I don’t even care about the games!

Is this patriotism unusual?  Actually, we Americans are outliers in this regard.  In a recent set of World Values Surveys, 71 percent of Americans responded positively when asked if they were very proud of their country. Among 16 other rich countries in the surveys, the average was only 45 percent.  And only Australians and Irish were as proud as we seem to be. The jingoism of the networks in the U.S. during the Olympics caters to, and perhaps reinforces, our attitudes.



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. 

  • Read More »



Predicting the Winter Olympics with Economics

How many medals will U.S. athletes win at the Sochi Winter Olympics?

To answer this question, one might want to think about the abilities of the athletes involved in each competition.  And then use that information to forecast who is going to win each event.

Of course, that approach requires knowledge of the athletes involved in a wide variety of sports.  Furthermore, even if you knew how to measure ability, you would also have to figure out some way to forecast each athletes’ performance.

In a recent paper by Madeleine Andreff and Wladimir Andreff — “Economic Prediction of Medal Wins at the 2014 Winter Olympics” (PDF) – an approach advocated by a number of sports economists is employed.  Read More »



What Can the Olympics Teach Us About Closing the Achievement Gap?

John List and Uri Gneezy have appeared on our blog many times. This guest post is part of a series adapted from their book The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life. List also appeared in our recent podcast “How to Raise Money Without Killing a Kitten.”

If you look at two pictures of two athletes: One is beaming, the other doesn’t seem too sure what she’s feeling. Which do you think won the silver? Which the bronze? Easy, right? Silver is better than bronze, so the smiling girl on the right must have won the silver. Which do you think won the silver? Which the bronze? Easy, right? Silver is better than bronze, so the smiling girl on the right must have won the silver. Read More »



It Really Is All About the Players

Economists are often asked – and perhaps, just as often just volunteer – to make predictions. This is odd, since – as the old joke goes – economists only seem to exist to make meteorologists look good.  In other words, economists often get their guesses about the future wrong.

Given this tendency, I always like to note when I get a prediction right (and it has actually happened before).  And prior to the Olympics, I did predict that the U.S. would win the gold medal in men’s basketball.  And on Sunday, that prediction came true.

Okay, that wasn’t much of a prediction (did anyone predict that wouldn’t happen?).  And despite the lack of challenge with respect to this prediction, I also heavily qualified my original forecast. Nevertheless, I did make something that could be called a prediction.  And it was right.  So that means something! Read More »



Woulda, Coulda, and the Real Story Behind the Redeem Team

ESPN.com recently offered a somewhat confusing article comparing the 2012 U.S. Men’s Olympic basketball team to the 1992 Dream Team.  The headline of the article – “LeBron: We Would Beat Dream Team” – makes it clear that LeBron James believes the 2012 team would defeat the 1992 Dream Team. 

The first line of the story, though, makes a somewhat different claim: “LeBron James has joined Kobe Bryant in saying that he believes this year’s Team USA Olympic men’s basketball team could beat the 1992 Dream Team.”

And then further in the article, we see…

James’s comments echoed those of Bryant, who two weeks ago made a similar proclamation.

“It would be a tough one, but I think we would pull it out,” Bryant said at a news conference. “People who think we can’t beat that team for one game, they are crazy. To sit there and say we can’t, it’s ludicrous. We can beat them one time.”

Bryant appeared to soften those comments a bit Friday, telling reporters, “I didn’t say we were a better team. But if you think we can’t beat that team one time? Like I’m going to say no, that we’d never beat them.

“They are a better team. The question was ‘Can we beat them?’ Yes we can. Of course we can.”

Read More »



The Olympics and the Doctors

A New England Journal of Medicine article explores the history of the Olympic Games as an object of “medical scrutiny,” with some interesting highlights:

Physicians have been interested in the Olympics for many reasons. In the 1920s, they probed the limits of human physiology. One group studied the Yale heavyweight rowers who won gold in Paris. An ingenious contraption revealed that at their racing speed — 12 mph — the eight men produced four horsepower, a 20-fold increase over resting metabolism (1925). A 1937 study published in the Journal showed that athletes at the 1936 Berlin games consumed 7300 calories each day (1937).

Of course, physicians are currently most fascinated by the effects and progress of performance-enhancing drugs: Read More »



Calling In The Troops

A headline on the UK news talked about complaints that the government is using an additional 3500 soldiers to help with security at the Olympics.  Why complain?  The security seems crucial; and given that the soldiers are being paid anyway, and were not going to be deployed elsewhere, the opportunity cost of their time does not seem very high.  (I’m assuming that the British Army is not maintained permanently larger for use in security in such events.)  This seems much more efficient than hiring some temporaries for security, who might not be as well-trained and who would require pay.