Olympic medal table

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The Olympic medal table is a method of sorting the medal placements of countries in the modern-day Olympics and Paralympics. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) does not officially recognize a ranking of participating countries at the Olympic Games.[1] Nevertheless, the IOC does publish medal tallies for information purposes, showing the total number of Olympic medals earned by athletes representing each country's respective National Olympic Committee.[2] The convention used by the IOC is to sort by the number of gold medals the athletes from a country have earned. In the event of a tie in the number of gold medals, the number of silver medals is taken into consideration, and then the number of bronze medals. If two countries have an equal number of gold, silver, and bronze medals, they are ordered in the table alphabetically by their IOC country code.


The Olympic Charter, Chapter 1, section 6 states that:

The Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries...[3]

The Charter goes even further in Chapter 5, section 57, expressly prohibiting the IOC from producing an official ranking:

The IOC and the OCOG shall not draw up any global ranking per country. A roll of honour bearing the names of medal winners and those awarded diplomas in each event shall be established by the OCOG and the names of the medal winners shall be featured prominently and be on permanent display in the main stadium.

According to Australian IOC member Kevan Gosper, the IOC began to accommodate medals tables in 1992, releasing 'information' based on the 'gold first' standard.[1] The medal tables provided on its website carry this disclaimer:

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) does not recognise global ranking per country; the medal tables are displayed for information only. Furthermore, the results that we publish are official and are taken from the "Official Report" - a document published for each Olympic Games by the Organising Committee. However, for the first Olympic Games (until Antwerp in 1920), it is difficult to give the exact number of medals awarded to some countries since teams were composed of athletes from different countries. The medal tables by country are based on the number of medals won, with gold medals taking priority over silver and bronze. A team victory counts as one medal.[4]

Official reports[edit]

Each Olympic Games organising committee (except in 1904) has published an official report after the conclusion of the Games, which among other things list the results of each event. Some early reports included an overall national ranking, including those of 1908,[5] 1912,[6] 1924 (Summer[7] and Winter[8]) and 1928 (Winter[9]). The 1912 and 1924 tables are described as "official" while that of 1928 is "unofficial".

The 1932 Winter Games report states, "There is no official point score in the Olympic Games" and quotes General Rule 19 of the 1930 Olympic Charter, "“In the Olympic Games there is no classification according to points".[10][11] It states that the country-based organisation of teams is "chiefly for practical convenience" and that country rankings are "a grave injustice on the smaller countries".[10] It continues that "it has been the experience of all previous Olympic Games that the press of the world insist on exploiting the aspect of national rivalry by creating and publishing a wholly unofficial point score of their own devising, most often on the basis of 10, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 points for the six places recognized on the table of honor". The report itself provides such a table "for ready reference".[10]

National goals[edit]

The sports funding agencies of some nations have set targets of reaching a certain rank in the medals table, usually based on gold medals; examples are Australia, Japan, France, and Germany.[1] Funding is reduced for sports with low prospects of medals.[1]

After London's successful bid to host the 2012 Olympics, UK Sport submitted a funding request to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport setting an "aspirational goal" of fourth place in the 2012 medals table, to be reviewed after the 2008 Olympics, for which a target of eighth place was set.[12][13][14] The British Olympic Association dissociated itself from setting targets.[13] When Britain finished fourth in 2008, the 2012 target was settled at fourth, with the team ultimately finishing third.

Australia's disappointing 10th-place in the 2012 medals table prompted the Australian Sports Commission to draw up a ten-year plan which included a "medium-term" goal of a top-five place in the Summer Olympics and Paralympics and a top-15 place in the winter games.[15][16]

When Tokyo bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics, the Japanese Olympic Committee set a 2016 target of third place in gold medals, which it retained even after the games were awarded in 2010 to Rio de Janeiro.[17]

Ranking systems[edit]

"I believe each country will highlight what suits it best. One country will say, 'Gold medals.' The other country will say, 'The total tally counts.' We take no position on that."

IOC President Jacques Rogge[18]

As the IOC does not consider its sorting of nations to be an official ranking system, various methods of ranking nations are used. Some sort rankings decided by the total number of medals the country has but most list by the gold medals counted. However, if two or more teams have the same number of gold medals, the silver medals are then judged from the most to the least and then the bronze medals.

Medal count ranking[edit]

The gold first ranking system described above is used by most of the world media, as well as the IOC. While the gold first ranking system has been used occasionally by some American media outlets, newspapers in the United States primarily publish medal tables ordered by the total number of medals won.[19][20][21][22][23][24]

This difference in rankings has its origins in the early days of the Olympics, when the IOC did not publish or recognise medal tables.[1] Before the 2002 Winter Olympics the difference in ranking system received scant notice, since in recent Olympic history the country that led in total medals also led in the gold count.[citation needed] However, in 2002 Winter Olympics Germany won the highest number of medals (36), but earned one gold medal fewer than Norway - the latter winning 13.[25] A similar situation occurred at the 2008 Summer Olympics, with China and U.S. topping the gold and total medal tallies respectively,[26] and then again at the 2010 Winter Olympics when Canada and the U.S. finished 1st and 3rd respectively in the "gold first" ranking[27] or 3rd and 1st respectively in terms of total medals won.[28] Other exceptions are the 1896, 1912, and 1964 Summer Olympics when the United States finished first in gold medal count, but second in the overall medal count. In an August 24, 2008 news conference, IOC President Jacques Rogge confirmed that the IOC does not have a view on any particular ranking system.[18]

Population-size, resources-per-person and multivariate prediction models and ratings[edit]

Sporting success predictions and ratings can be univariate, i.e. based on one independent variable, such as a country's population size and the number of medals is divided by the population of the country,[29][30] or multivariate, where resources-per-person in the form of GDP per capita and other variables are included.

Resources per person in the form of GDP per capita has been included in an article by The Guardian published during the 2012 Summer Olympics[30] and again by Google's News Lab for the Rio 2016 games.[31][32] Already in 2002, the research done by Meghan Busse of Northwestern University suggested that both a large population and high per capita GDP are needed to generate high medal totals,[33] and predictive models have been built trying to predict success with multivariate analysis, taking also past results and host-nation advantage into account.[34][35][36]

Weighted ranking[edit]

Systematic rankings based upon a weighted point system with the most points awarded to a gold medal have also been devised. Those used in the official reports were:

  • 1908: 5:3:1 — gold medals 5 points, silver medals 3 points, and bronze medals 1 point.[5][26]
  • 1912: 3:2:1 — the report also compares this "Swedish" method with the 5:3:1 "English" method.[6]
  • 1924: 10:5:4:3:2:1 — so points were awarded for 4th to 6th places, where no medals were awarded.[7][8] The IOC did require top six finishers to be listed in the report in a "table of honor".[10]
  • 1928: 6:5:4:3:2:1 — separate totals are listed depending on whether the military patrol was included or not, as its status was downgraded belatedly to demonstration sport.[9]
  • 1932: same as 1924, and described as the usual scheme in newspapers.[10]

The 1908 and 1924 systems share the points for tied placings: for example, in a two-way tie for second, each gets half the sum of the points for second and third place.[5][7][8]

In 2004, a 3:2:1 system was used by the Australian Geography Teachers Association.[37] This weighting values a gold medal as much weight as a silver and a bronze medal combined. In response to the 2008 controversy over medal rank, Jeff Z. Klein in a New York Times blog post proposed a 4:2:1 system as a compromise between the total-medals and golds-first methods.[38] These systems have been popular in certain places at certain times, but none of them have been adopted on a large scale.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Johnson, Ian (August 13, 2008). "Who's on First in Medals Race". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2009-01-12. 
  2. ^ Araton, Harvey (August 18, 2008). "A Medal Count That Adds Up To Little". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-12. 
  3. ^ "Olympic Charter" (PDF). International Olympic Committee. 2011-07-08. Retrieved 2012-08-04. 
  4. ^ "Olympic Games Athens 1896 - Medal Table". International Olympic Committee. Retrieved 2008-08-19. 
  5. ^ a b c 1908 Olympic Games Organising Committee. "Official Report" (PDF). pp. 366–7. Retrieved 4 March 2016. 
  6. ^ a b 1912 Olympic Games Organising Committee. "Official Report" (PDF). pp. 864–5. Retrieved 4 March 2016. 
  7. ^ a b c 1924 Summer Olympic Games Organising Committee. "Official Report" (PDF). p. 617. Retrieved 4 March 2016. 
  8. ^ a b c 1924 Winter Olympic Games Organising Committee. "Official Report" (PDF). p. 661. Retrieved 4 March 2016. 
  9. ^ a b 1928 Winter Olympic Games Organising Committee. "Official Report" (PDF). p. 19. Retrieved 4 March 2016. 
  10. ^ a b c d e Latimer, George M. (1932). "Point Scoring". Report (PDF). Lake Placid: III Olympic Winter Games Organizing Committee. pp. 264–5. 
  11. ^ "General rules applicable to the celebration of the Olympic Games" (PDF). 1930 - Olympic Charter - Statutes of the International Olympic Committee. International Olympic Committee. 1930. p. 28. Retrieved 4 March 2016. 
  12. ^ Comptroller and auditor general (20 March 2008). "Setting targets and reporting performance" (PDF). Preparing for Sporting Success at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and Beyond. National Audit Office. pp. 25, sec 3.4–3.5. Retrieved 4 March 2016. 
  13. ^ a b Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport (4 December 2007). "Memorandum submitted by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Ltd (LOCOG)". House of Commons. pp. Minutes of Evidence Examination of Witnesses Questions 220 – 239. Retrieved 4 March 2016. 
  14. ^ Select Committee on Public Accounts (23 June 2008). "Forty-Second Report". House of Commons. p. Summary. Retrieved 4 March 2016. 
  15. ^ Wylie, John (2015). "Rio 2016". Australian Sports Commission (republished from The Australian). Retrieved 4 March 2016. 
  16. ^ "Australia's 2012–2022 performance targets" (PDF). Australia's Winning Edge 2012–2022. Australian Sports Commission. 2012. p. 4. Retrieved 4 March 2016. 
  17. ^ "JOC won't change gold medal target for 2016 Olympics". The Japan Times. 28 April 2010. Retrieved 4 March 2016. 
  18. ^ a b Shipley, Amy (August 25, 2008). "China's Show of Power". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-08-28. 
  19. ^ Eason, Kevin (2008-08-25). "America refuses to accept defeat in Olympic medal count". The Times (UK). Retrieved 2009-01-12. 
  20. ^ Flyan, Kevin (2008-08-19). "Who's top of the medals table?". Reuters. Retrieved 2009-01-12. 
  21. ^ Wetzel, Dan (2008-08-22). "U.S. will be rocked by China's heavy medals". Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved 2009-01-12. 
  22. ^ Pells, Eddie (March 5, 2008). "US, China set low Olympic expectations". USA Today. Associated Press. Retrieved 2009-01-12. 
  23. ^ Paul, Alan (2008-08-16). "Different measures of success in race for gold". NBC Olympics. Retrieved 2010-01-10. 
  24. ^ Ruddick, Graham (2008-08-22). "US accused of medal table spin". The Telegraph (UK). Retrieved 2009-01-16. 
  25. ^ http://www.databaseolympics.com/games/gamesyear.htm?g=45
  26. ^ a b Hardaway, Robert (2008-08-22). "Weighing Olympic gold". The Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on August 27, 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-22. 
  27. ^ 2010 Official Medal Table
  28. ^ "Official Website for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics". Retrieved 2010-03-01. 
  29. ^ Donovan, Brooke (2008-08-21). "We are second in medals table-behind Slovenia". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 2009-01-16. 
  30. ^ a b Rogers, Simon (2012-08-30). "Olympics 2012: the alternative medals table". The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-08-06. 
  31. ^ "2008 Summer Olympics: GDP Adjusted Performance Ranking". FlagAndMap. Retrieved 2012-07-25. 
  32. ^ "Alternative Olympics medal table". landing.google.com. Retrieved 2016-08-13. 
  33. ^ Who Wins the Olympic Games: Economic Resources and Medal Totals, Review of Economics and Statistics, December 2002.
  34. ^ "Medals table: The alternative rankings for London 2012". The BBC. 30 July 2012. Retrieved 4 August 2013. 
  35. ^ "Dan Johnson: "The Man Who Predicts Medals"". Colorado College. 18 July 2012. Retrieved 4 August 2013. 
  36. ^ "Medals table: The real winners and losers". The BBC. 14 August 2012. Retrieved 4 August 2013. 
  37. ^ Bernard, Andrew (2004). "Medal points data for Athens 2004 Olympic Games" (PDF). Review of Economics and Statistics. Retrieved 2010-02-15. 
  38. ^ Klein, Jeff (2008-08-17). "The Medal Rankings: Which Country Leads the Olympics?". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-01-10.