Media Bias: Olympic Edition

If you go to to study the Olympic medal counts, you will find the United States sitting proudly at the top of the list.

When I last checked, the U.S. had about 13 more medals than China. Russia, in third place, has barely more than half the medals we have. Great Britain is in fourth. You’ll find this same ranking in The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post, and virtually every other American media outlet.

If you look at the BBC medal count, however, the U.S. is second and Great Britain is third. Strange, since they are reporting on the same Olympics. The difference is that the BBC ranks countries according to their number of gold medals, rather than overall medals.

Could it be mere coincidence that Reuters also chooses to rank countries by gold medals?

I did not even need to look to know that the Chinese media would report results based on gold medals, a category that China is dominating.

There are, however, counterexamples. Le Figaro lists countries by gold medals — even though France has only four golds, but a combined total of 26 silver and bronze medals — and so does the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

(Hat tip: David Yin)

Tom Johnson

Why would you even count silver and bronze. They lost the race.

The US is best if you count people who almost won.


@ Pedro

Exactly. In the article, even the countries that have fewer golds-Canada and France-rank by golds, not overall. The US is just trying to somehow, prove they are still superior to China, but the gold medal count begs to differ...

Miguel V.

I think Dr. Levitt that you have a work to do: Try to figure out how many bronzes and silvers is a gold medal worth. From a econometric perspective. Perhaps only then one can write the true ranking.


I wonder what are the ages of people who commented on this.


A gold medal signifies a victory in an event.

China have won more victories in events than any other country.

End of argument.


By the way, the bbc have been ranking it by Gold medals since the start of the games, even though they are not expected to get more golds than silver or bronze, no bias there. GB rocks


1. Any medal count doesn't mean much because it gives equal weight to every sport.

2. The norm around the world is ranking by gold medals first. How did the american media do in the past olympics?


US rocks, but not their athletes. There overall performance is terrible. US sent what, 700 plus athletes? Out of that, only a fraction of them are producing! In the world of business, the ones that brought home the medals are assets, and the ones that didn't are liabilities!


I think that ranking by gold medal counts isn't the best way. Say one country has 15 golds, no silvers, and no bronze but another has 14 golds, 12 silvers and 24 bronze. To say the first country is better because is it has one more gold is deceptive, I think.


Ranking by gold medals or total medals is a matter of personal choice. They don't mean much. For example, Liukin and Chinese gymnast He all had the same score on uneven bars, but China got gold and U.S. got silver. The score? The same. So, the higher total number of medals mean better achievement. U.S. rocks.


Let's be real. Total metal count should not determine which country dominated over who. There should be other rankings or stats, other than total medals. By the way, I'm not Korean. For example, Korea sent less than half the number of athletes compared to the Chinese and American athletes. Keep in mind, Chinese and American team sent the most number of athletes, so it is no wonder they hold more medal count and they should. If you look at it in another way, lets say each country sending their team had a dollar value for each member they sent. Based on the number of Athletes China and the US represents, they would have the worst productivity. In other words, Based on the number of athletes The Chinese and the Americans represent, they are far below the medal to where they should be. With the number of athletes they sent, they should own more hand half of all medals given.


This story of ranking is boring and useless. However, let me tell you all that -being myself an european- if you sum up the medals of every country of the UE, then there is no contest: we gain by every method you use. Apart from assigning 10 points to all US medals and 1 to ours.


Italo Paula

I believe that counting by gold medals first is the way to go. If one goes by the method used by the American Press, 40 gold medals would be worth the same as 40 silver medal. So, if for example, the US and China played in 40 games and China won 40 times the result would be 40 medals to each country - giving it a tie in medal count. Therefore counting the medal total is useless. In this example, it is clear that China would be the winner.

In reality, the count should be by gold medals. Every country counts it by gold medal, why should our press report a different result?


The CBC rankings use gold as default, but have the option to sort by any medal of your choice, or by total. I don't think this is quite a fair portrayal that you posted.


I read article on the same issue in Wall Street Journal, last week i guess.


Just another data point: Swedish media ranks by number of golds even though Sweden hasn't won a single one. (4 silvers and a bronze last time I checked.)

usa bias

yep. its by golds. as it should be. which puts china clearly ahead. you wouldn't list a race car driver in first because they have 20 3rd place finishes would you? when another had 10 wins. there should be a points weighting.


Why are we so stuck on medal count? Does this mean out country is better than their country because we have more medals than they do? For some real analysis, why don't we break down total medals per capita. In this ranking China would be at the bottom of the list somewhere, I am not going to attempt the math, and a place like Malta might be at the top (assuming they can win just one bronze medal).

We would be better off to enjoy the gifts that these athletes have and to marvel and a guy like Bolt who seems to run like the wind, or Phelps who swims like a fish.

Julian Togelius

Another interesting bias is that gold is counted per country, not per capita or per continent. See this gold count for an example of the two latter measures:


Forget golds versus silver versus bronze - what about relative sports? I don't care that some country won a medal in rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized swimming, ping pong*, equestrian, synchronized diving, and a bunch of other sports no one pays attention to and only a hand full of people in any one country perform competitively.

I also believe objective sports should take precedence over judged sports. Gymnastics takes great athleticism and grace, but is the gold winner really better than the silver or bronze? Often it doesn't seem like it.

Realistically, the 100M sprint gold should have the most value. Its a marquee event with the most competition of all the events. Who in the world has not run a race on the school yard?

*I do find ping pong fun to watch