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Opinion

Which Olympic nations are doing best on the per capita medal tally?

Cate Campbell congratulates Emma McKeon. (Photo by Getty Images)
Expert
2nd August, 2021
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6111 Reads

A snapshot into the sad life I lead is my keen interest in which countries perform best in global competitions on a per-capita basis.

The curiosity first came to light way back in the 1980s and the early data suggested that Australia and Hungary were almost always close to the top of the tree when their relatively small populations were considered alongside the medals they attained.

Leading into Day 10 of competition in Tokyo, the official count in terms of total medals won saw the United States on top with 59, China close at hand with 51 and the Russian Olympic Committee in third with a healthy haul of 44.

Great Britain are having a splendid games having earned 32 medals at that point and more in the pool than ever before, while Australia and Japan shared fifth place with 31 total medals.

However, allowing for total population, the results are significantly shaken up.

Lamont Marcell Jacobs wins gold in the 100m

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

With a population nearing 1.5 billion, China is medalling at a rate of one per 28.3 million people. The United States fairs better with a ratio of one to 5.6 million, as do the Russians with one medal for every 3.3 million residents.

Great Britain was outperforming them all at the time of writing, with a medal won for every 2.1 million people in the United Kingdom and Japan is doing very nicely indeed on home soil with their 31 medals to date representing a one to 4 million ratio.

However, the head of the class of the top countries was Australia. Riding a wave of aquatic success, the Aussies have notched up an Olympic medal for every 832,000 folks back home: a number embarrassingly impressive for the powerhouses with whom they continue to compete admirably.

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While such a figure may sound particularly impressive and be a frequently used moderator for Australia when citing our active participation in sports and the consistent success achieved in them, there are a number of other nations batting even further above their weight when it comes to Olympic success.

In fact, our neighbours across the ditch currently have the green and gold covered with ease. New Zealand has so far produced a medal for every 441,876 Kiwis, an outstanding start to the games.

Samu Kerevi of Team Australia

(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Czech Republic and Switzerland have achieved similar numbers to Australia thus far and Croatia threatens the New Zealand figure with a medal for every 583,093 residents.

Slovenia ranks even better with 519,681 citizens per medal and another close Australian neighbour Fiji has two golds to this point and comes even closer to the Kiwi benchmark with a medal for every 451,453 residents of the island paradise.

However, before New Zealanders begin proclaiming themselves as the greatest Olympic per capita nation on earth, they best be made aware of the stunning achievements of Bermuda and San Marino.

With a tiny population of just over 62,000 people and being more famous for the quad-annual appearance of Bermuda short fashion rather than winning Olympic medals, the North Atlantic nation claimed its first ever Summer Olympics gold medal when Flora Duffy triumphed in the women’s triathlon event last week.

That ratio of medals to population appeared unlikely to be matched in Tokyo, until San Marino calmly said ‘hold my beer’ and sent Alessandra Perilli out to compete in the women’s trap shooting. She won bronze and just two days later teamed up with Gian Marco Berti to claim a silver in the mixed event.

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With population considered, San Marino’s haul equates to a medal for every 17,004 residents. For comparison, achieving success at the same rate would see Australia take home around 1,470 medals from Tokyo!

Of course, Cinderella stories aside, there are also a few nations not enjoying their dearth of medals achieved to this point. Proud sporting nation South Africa has managed just three medals at a ratio of around one per 20 million residents.

The Japanese National Flag over the Olympic Rings symbol

(Photo by Stanislav Kogiku/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Turkey fares worse with one for every 28 million, Argentina raises the bar to a medal for every 45 million citizens and Mexico is doing little better with one medal to 43 million folks.

Yet it is India that takes the unflattering honour of the poorest Olympic success per head of population thus far. With just a silver and a bronze to celebrate at the time of writing, it has achieved just one medal for every 696 million Indian sports nuts!

Of course, many will cite Bermuda and San Marino as outliers, feeling that of the broader mass, New Zealand potentially deserves the title of best Olympic over-achiever to this point.

Should they add to their tally in the coming days, the margin of victory will be extended further and Australia would require an epic rush of success to even dream of closing the gap to the Kiwis.

The top five performers after Day 9 of competition (medals per head of population)
1. San Marino: one medal per 17,000 residents
2. Bermuda: one medal per 62,000 residents
3. New Zealand: one medal per 441,876 residents
4. Fiji: one medal per 451,453 residents
5. Slovenia: one medal per 519,618 residents
Note: Australia: one medal per 832,844 residents

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