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Winning the Olympics

Mar 15, 2012 • Behavioral Economics, Economic History, Macroeconomic Measurement, Uncategorized • 117 Views    No Comments

How to predict Olympic medal winners?


It takes money to train a world class athlete. The most economically fit countries can afford to train their athletes. Also, the “host bounce” helps. In the past, host countries have enjoyed a 3 medal boost for the Winter Games and 25 medals for the Summer Games.

Predicting the big medal winners at the 2012 Olympics, a Colorado College economist focuses on per capita income, population, the “home court” advantage and any “nation specific” effects. For London 2012, he says the U.S. will win 34 gold medals,  China will leave with 33, and Russia, 25.  Dr. Johnson has averaged 93% accuracy.

Here, econlife looks at the GDP/Olympic connection to Greece’s economic woes.

The Economic Lesson

Called anthropometric history, the history of human height has become an economic field of study. Economists use height data to form hypotheses about GDP, national affluence, food consumption, real family income, wages and prices.

Making Olympic predictions, economists are flipping the approach. Instead of using height data to predict GDP, GDP data is used to make predictions about the capability of human capital. For example, might growth in U.S. GDP between 1939 and 1999 relate to the 7 inch increase, from 6’1″ to 6’8″, for an average forward on the University of Wisconsin’s basketball team?

An Economic Question: Knowing that certain Communist countries have targeted resources toward supporting Olympic athletes, what GDP connection might you hypothesize?

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