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Who Really Won the Olympics?

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Aug 15, 2012    •    250 Views

Sometimes it is tough to decide who really is #1.

Ask me who won the Olympics and I, as a former history teacher, might say the Mongol Empire.

If you were to outline the Mongol Empire (1280AD) on a map, 15 contemporary countries would be totally or partially included. Ranging from China to Tajikstan and including the Russian Federation and South Korea, those 15 nations won 285 medals.

The top 6 on my medals list would be:

EMPIRE  MEDAL COUNT
Mongol (1280)  285
British (1910)  181
Eurozone (2012)  178
Roman (100)  175
Napoleonic (1810)  165
Russia (1950)  164

From: pingflux.

Other yardsticks for naming Olympic winners?

Most people say that the US was first with the most medals (104) or because it got more gold (46) than anyone else. Then though, using the gold as our yardstick, for the 2008 Olympics, China, with 51 would have been named #1. Another possibility is to divide a nation’s GDP or its population by its medal count. Among the top winners, for GDP Russia is on top because it “spent” the least while Great Britain wins for the lowest number of people per medal

COUNTRY MILLIONS OF PEOPLE PER MEDAL      $ BILLIONS OF GDP PER MEDAL
GREAT BRITAIN    0.97     $35
RUSSIA    1.68     $29
GERMANY    1.85     $71
US    3.02     $147
CHINA   15.44     $131

From: WSJ.com

All of this took me to a New Yorker article from Malcolm Gladwell on ranking. Focusing primarily on the U.S. News & World Report’s annual “Best Colleges,” he suggests that seemingly clear criteria for determining the “best” are tough to quantify and may not even be valid. when you look closely at them

For me, Gladwell’s conclusions apply also to the economy. Looking at income inequality among nations, happiness among US states, the top money managers on Wall Street or countless other topics, you will discover that the criteria for ranking them deserves a closer look.

Econlife looked more closely at ranking questions here. Also, a thanks to the WSJ Numbers Guy for the ideas and much of the data in this post and you might enjoy reading more about the historic empires that would have won the 20102 London Olympics.

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