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