The Medal Count, by Market Value

This year’s Olympic medals “are the first containing metal salvaged from televisions, circuit boards, monitors and electronic waste.” Both the “gold” and “silver” medals are actually 92.5% silver, while the bronze medals are mostly copper. The first-place medals (which are gold-plated) are valued at about $537; the second-place medals are valued at about $300; and the third-place medals are valued at $3.40. Cybermetrics calculated this year’s Olympics champion, by market value of the medals — Canada takes first place with a total haul of $9,635. (HT: Cyril Morong)[%comments]

Dave, Boston

I'm afraid this is a perfect example of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.


So team sports now share a single medal? If we're calculating cost, you have to consider that every member of a bobsled team or hockey team receives a medal.


Well, we did want to own the podium. Perhaps we can sell those medals off to buy it.



I guess the Canadian government's expecting a much better ROI from the concessions.

Cyril Morong


I think you hit the nail on the head. I'm guilty as charged.


Cyril Morong

If anyone wants to see the medal totals where they count everyone on a team, go to

Cyril Morong

Sorry, I don't think what I say in #6 is quite right. I don't that is what they do there. Anyway, if someone knows where the total number of medals is listed, counting each member of team, let me know. Thanks. Then we can get to the bottom of this.

Joe in Jersey

So where is all the money earned by the Olympics going if it's not going into the medals or athletes? NBC paid over $2 billion for the TV rights (Summer and Winter), not to mention all other income from other sources, where is all this money going? Can I buy stock in the Olympics?

Cyril Morong

Okay, counting each medal for each team member, here is the top 10

CAN 81012.4
USA 50837.6
GER 30598.4
NOR 26245.2
AUT 16180.8
SWE 14715.2
KOR 12457.6
CHN 9846.4
RUS 9532.4
SUI 6491.6

Canada won 134 gold medals

Neil (SM)

I initially thought they were going to assign a market value based on the worldwide marketability of each sport, i.e. hockey would probably get a larger take than luge.

Most likely it's too hard to determine those figures; certainly more controversial.

Paul Clapham

I have read that the IOC is one of the least transparent international organizations, so good luck with getting a copy of the budget for the Olympics. But we do know that something like $900 million was spent on security. That would include several hundred miles of fencing, salaries for several thousand police officers, rental of a few F-18 jets from the military, and so on.


Wow, that really shows the separation between Canada and everyone else. Almost as much as #2 and #3 combined!


This is an example of wanting to seem smart but not really being smart.

Because a smart person would understand that the "market value" of an Olympic medal is much higher than the salvage value of the metal it's made from.

Yes, I understand what you're getting at, but the fact that you didn't accurately portray it from the start indicates either carelessness or intent to mislead.

Vincent Clement

Total medal count is a joke. Athletes don't compete to come in second, third or tenth place. They compete to win. The loser of the Super Bowl or the Stanley Cup final does not get a ring, trophy or medal.

The silver and bronze medals are nice gestures to make the second and third place finishers feel a little better than those fourth and below. Many silver and bronze medallists were not that enthusiastic during the medal ceremonies.

Winning is everything we are told. If you believe that, then the country with the most wins - aka gold medals - is the winner. Based on that, for the 2010 Winter Olympics, the winner is Canada.

Cyril Morong


You're not going to haul me before a senate committee, are you? Jeez, I thought everyone would just see this as being fun or funny. I had not intent of "proving" anything.




I agree with you. I though it was just a fun little exercise. Apparently, some people take things WAY too seriously. Which is especially surprising on this blog.

Typical Freakonomics Blog Poster: How dare you not factor in the PPP for these calculations! And what about the time value of today's winnings? And besides, what about the opportunity cost of winning those medals? How much does Sydney Crosby make per game?? Would Canada still lead??

Cyril Morong

Thanks! I already have my Ph. D. but you've suggested enough good questions for someone to write a thesis on.


I love how countries always find ingenious ways to count and re-arrange the medals so that their success can be measured on a higher scale and they can have bragging rights over other countries (the per-capita scale is a good laugh). Get over it, people. You look pathetic.


When does one differentiate between cost and value? Baseball cards have almost no cost but some have huge value to the market.


Here's another couple of (completely meaningless but still interesting) ways to look at a medal count. (My source is the vancouver olympic website, and for team medals, I used the roster size of the winning team. Not sure how I got different numbers from Cyril.)

Total physical medals won top 5:
USA : 95 (44 are hockey)
Canada: 90 (44 are hockey)
Germany: 51
Finland: 50 (44 are hockey)
Norway: 39

Total physical gold medals won top 5:
Canada: 67 (44 are hockey)
Norway: 15
Germany: 13
USA: 12
Sweden: 12

Using a 4-2-1 weighting system for medals, and only counting 1 gold, 1 silver, and 1 bronze per event, who won each sport:
Alpine Skiing: USA
Biathlon: Norway
Bobsleigh: Canada
Cross-Country: Norway
Curling: Canada
Figure Skating: USA/China (tie)
Freestyle Skiing: Canada
Hockey: Canada
Luge: Germany
Nordic Combined: USA
Short Track: South Korea
Skeleton: Canada/UK (tie)
Ski Jumping: Switzerland
Snowboard: USA
Speed Skating: Netherlands

If you do the same thing, but count total physical medals, the only changes are that China wins Figure Skating, Austria wins Nordic Combined and Ski Jumping, and Canada wins Short Track and Speed Skating.

The final meta-standings, giving each country 4 points for winning an individual sport, 2 and 1 for 2nd and 3rd, are:
Canada - 22
USA - 20
Germany - 14
Norway - 9.5
Austria - 6
South Korea - 6

And doing the same but with physical medal counts, awarding points to each country for 'winning' a sport:
Canada - 28
USA - 17
Germany - 14.5
Austria - 10
Norway - 9

Basically, however you try to spin it, the US and Canada both had very successful Olympics, while Germany and Norway both excelled in their traditional sports and Russia was disappointed.