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~Researchers Use Economic Analysis to Predict Olympic Medal Counts
and Determine Athlete Participation

For immediate release:
January 30, 2002

Mary Ann Hill,
781-283-2376 or 2373

WELLESLEY, Mass. - Even before the Olympic torch has been lit in Salt Lake City, a faculty-student research team at Wellesley College has predicted the number of gold, silver, and bronze medals that will be won by each participating nation. Their analysis reveals that a country's per-capita income, location, and political structure all affect the ability of nations to send athletes and to win medals.

Daniel K.N. Johnson, assistant professor of economics at Wellesley and a visiting fellow at Harvard's Center for International Development, teamed up with Ayfer Ali, a Harvard senior who transferred from Wellesley, to explain Olympic performance using economic and political variables. Their paper, "A Tale of Two Seasons: Participation and Medal Counts at the Summer and Winter Olympic Games," can be found online at

The paper is Johnson and Ali's second Olympic collaboration. In 2000, they used the same method to predict participation and medal counts for the Sydney Summer Games. Their predictions were remarkably accurate, with a correlation of 0.96 with actual participation, 0.95 with medal counts, and 0.96 for gold medals alone.

The current paper compares the effects of income per capita and population on Summer versus Winter Games, finding that population matters more for summer and income matters more for winter results. Colder climates lead to more participation and more medals in both seasons. Nations with single-party or Communist political structures win a surprisingly large number of medals in both seasons, considering the number of athletes they send.

Johnson and Ali predict that, although the United States will have the largest athletic contingent, Germany will win the most medals (31 total, 11 gold), and second place will go to Russia (21 total, 10 gold) as they edge out the US. (20 total, 7 gold) and Norway (20 total, 6 gold).

No large or significant differences were found between events, although income is slightly more important for winning medals in equipment-intensive sports (e.g. luge or sailing) and population is slightly more important for stamina-intensive sports (e.g. nordic skiing or marathon) and team events.

For major participating nations, sending an extra athlete requires a $260 rise in income per capita. Similarly the "cost" of winning an extra medal is $1700 per capita and $4750 per capita for an additional gold medal.

Full research paper citation: Johnson, Daniel K.N. and Ayfer Ali. "A Tale of Two Seasons: Participation and Medal Counts at the Summer and Winter Olympic Games," Wellesley College Department of Economics Working Paper 2002-02. January, 2002.


Click here to read the Harvard Gazette's article on Johnson and Ali's research.

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  • Date Modified: Feb. 1, 2002
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