Saturday, February 13, 2010

Geography of Winter Olympics Medal Winners

Earlier I wrote an article about the geography of where the Summer and Winter Olympics have been played. With the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games starting I wondered what the geographic distribution of medal winners was.

The table is set to rank gold medals as the main factor.


GOLD SILVER BRONZE TOTAL
Norway 95 96 80 271
USA 74 76 55 205
USSR 72 47 50 169
Germany 65 63 44 172
Austria 51 61 65 177
Sweden 39 29 42 110
Finland 37 55 46 138
Switzerland 36 35 42 113
Canada 36 37 42 115
Italy 34 31 34 99
Russia 33 24 19 76
East Germany 29 28 29 86
France 25 23 32 80
Netherlands 25 30 23 78
South Korea 17 8 6 31
West Germany 12 16 14 42
Unified Team (CIS)
9 6 8 23
Japan 9 8 13 30
UK 7 3 10 20
Estonia 4 1 1 6
Czech Republic 4 7 3 14
China 4 16 13 33
Croatia 4 3 0 7
Liechtenstein 2 2 3 7
Australia 2 0 2 4
Belgium 1 1 3 5
Czechoslovakia
1 4 10 15
Poland 1 2 3 6
Bulgaria 1 2 3 6
Kazakhstan 1 2 2 5
Uzbekistan 1 0 0 1
Spain 1 0 1 2
Hungary 0 2 4 6
Belarus 0 3 3 6
Slovakia 0 1 0 1
Ukraine 0 1 2 3
Latvia 0 0 1 1
Slovenia 0 0 4 4
Denmark 0 1 0 1
Luxembourg
0 2 0 2
New Zealand 0 1 0 1
North Korea 0 1 1 2
Yugoslavia 0 2 1 3
Romania 0 0 1 1


The above table needs a little explanation because of geopolitical changes. Some may charge that the table is unfair to Germany and Russia.
  • "Germany" reflects medals won by Imperial Germany, the Weimar Republic, Nazi Germany, the East-West German unity team of 1956--1964, and modern reunited Germany. Combining "Germany" with West and East Germany ups the total to 300 medals (106 gold, 107 silver, 87 bronze). I thought long and hard about dividing the Germanys from the total. In the end I believe it is unfair to other countries because that allows two German teams for each Olympics.
  • "Russia" is the modern Russian Federation. I separated Russia from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the Unified Team (Commonwealth of Independent States) because it would be unfair to give medals won by Soviet Ukrainians and other ethnic republics to Russia. If the Soviet Union, Unified Team, Russia, and the former Soviet states were combined their total would be 290 (120 gold, 84 silver, 86 bronze). Regardless how one cuts it, Russia has made up for their late entry and has to be considered one of the best Winter Olympic teams out there.

From the table it is clear that Winter Games are dominated by Europe and the West. Out of the 2,177 medals awarded
  • 1,750 (80.4%) were won by European countries
  • 320 (14.7%) were won by the United States and Canada
  • 102 (4.7%) medals were won by Asian countries: Japan, South Korea, North Korea, People's Republic of China, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.
  • 5 (0.2%) were won by countries in the Southern Hemisphere: Australia and New Zealand.
  • 0 medals won by African or South American countries
There is a bit of medal inflation. The first Winter Olympic Games awarded 49 medals while the 2006 games had 252 medals.

The region that is geographically most likely to produce strong Winter Olympic teams is upper Central Europe: Austria/Switzerland up through Germany and into the continental Nordic countries of Norway, Sweden, and Finland. These countries experience long winters that allow for outdoor, natural cultural winter sports training, mountains for skiing, and indoor sports infrastructure. The exception to this is Denmark which has only a silver in women's curling. Denmark lacks mountains and large outdoor areas. This curbs many winter sports activities and retards Denmark's efforts in the Winter Olympics.

3 comments:

SRF said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Co said...

"The exception to this is Denmark (...). Denmark lacks mountains and large outdoor areas. This curbs many winter sports activities and retards Denmark's efforts in the Winter Olympics."

That seems not the reason. What about the Netherlands? They also lack mountains and large outdoor areas. But their craze for ice skating provided them with 78 winter Olympic medals (79 at the moment, because yesterday ice skater Sven Kramer won a golden Olympic medal. The first Dutch olympic medal at the Vancouver games).

Denmark doesn't lack the right countryside, it lacks a tradition in one of the Winter Olympic sports.

Catholicgauze said...

Co,
Thanks for the comment. I said Denmark's physical geography retards/curbs its efforts. This impacts their ability to make some traditions. I do not think we are in disagreement.