Which Country Really Wins the Olympics?

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Gold medals per population and GDP since 1996

Rank Country name Country Golds Golds per person Golds per GDP
USA USA 245 0.74 11.775
China CHN 188 0.131 12.651
Russia RUS 149 1.021 101.77
Great Britain GBR 96 1.414 36.387
Germany DEU 90 1.074 23.806
Australia AUS 72 2.824 53.945
France FRA 67 1.026 26.26
Italy ITA 60 0.992 32.464
South Korea KOR 59 1.151 37.182
Japan JPN 52 0.411 10.589
Cuba CUB 42 3.708 459.77
Hungary HUN 42 4.348 280.114
Netherlands NLD 41 2.393 46.258
Ukraine UKR 34 0.777 239.016
Romania ROU 30 1.559 120.664
Spain ESP 27 0.577 21.644
Poland POL 25 0.661 43.037
Brazil BRA 21 0.099 15.398
New Zealand NZL 20 4.147 103.335
Canada CAN 18 0.477 11.248
Jamaica JAM 18 6.079 1,265.11
Kenya KEN 18 0.335 178.133
Greece GRC 17 1.631 87.459
Iran IRN 17 0.202 27.839
Ethiopia ETH 16 0.139 167.385
Norway NOR 16 2.951 43.67
Czech Republic CZE 15 1.401 61.99
Kazakhstan KAZ 15 0.799 90.509
Denmark DNK 14 2.417 41.222
Sweden SWE 13 1.287 24.572
Switzerland CHE 13 1.502 18.365
Turkey TUR 13 0.154 20.017
Belarus BLR 12 1.27 207.943
Bulgaria BGR 11 1.583 161.962
Croatia HRV 11 2.679 193.771
North Korea PRK 10 0.388 555.556
South Africa ZAF 10 0.169 35.387
Slovakia SVK 9 1.648 88.329
Thailand THA 9 0.129 17.675
Argentina ARG 8 0.177 20.901
Georgia GEO 8 2.005 490.316
Azerbaijan AZE 7 0.69 168.003
Belgium BEL 7 0.604 13.905
Uzbekistan UZB 7 0.209 117.114
Bahamas BHS 5 12.715 432.526
Colombia COL 5 0.098 18.873
Indonesia IDN 5 0.018 4.592
Lithuania LTU 5 1.837 90.803
Slovenia SVN 5 2.405 96.521
Taiwan TWN 5 0.21 7.867
Algeria DZA 4 0.091 27.151
Austria AUT 4 0.444 9.24
Finland FIN 4 0.722 14.933
Ireland IRL 4 0.81 10.023
Mexico MEX 4 0.031 3.845
Cameroon CMR 3 0.113 76.852
Dominican Republic DMA 3 0.277 38.519
Latvia LVA 3 1.591 90.868
Nigeria NGA 3 0.015 6.772
Serbia SRB 3 0.343 57.693
Tunisia TUN 3 0.254 76.48
Armenia ARM 2 0.675 156.091
Bahrain BHR 2 1.175 57.763
Chile CHL 2 0.105 8.149
Estonia EST 2 1.508 65.643
Mongolia MNG 2 0.61 149.421
Morocco MAR 2 0.054 17.822
Portugal PRT 2 0.196 9.021
Trinidad and Tobago TTO 2 1.429 88.036
Zimbabwe ZWE 2 0.135 142.837
Burundi BDI 1 0.084 319.387
Costa Rica CRI 1 0.196 16.766
Ecuador ECU 1 0.057 10.744
Egypt EGY 1 0.01 2.763
Fiji FJI 1 1.116 254.323
Grenada GRD 1 8.887 931.099
Hong Kong HKG 1 0.133 2.93
India IND 1 0.001 0.386
Israel ISR 1 0.116 2.608
Ivory Coast CIV 1 0.038 16.26
Jordan JOR 1 0.098 23.469
Kosovo KOS 1 0.552 133.618
Mozambique MOZ 1 0.032 68.695
Panama PAN 1 0.232 16.588
Puerto Rico PRI 1 0.35 10.642
Singapore SGP 1 0.171 2.963
Syria SYR 1 0.057 15.385
Tajikistan TJK 1 0.105 126.614
Uganda UGA 1 0.022 26.502
United Arab Emirates ARE 1 0.101 2.826
Venezuela VEN 1 0.035 20.572
Vietnam VNM 1 0.01 2.936
Golds per person = Number of golds ÷ population (millions)


Golds per GDP = Number of golds ÷ GDP (trillions)

Summer Olympic medal tables often look familiar – USA, China, Great Britain, Russia and Australia usually dominate. But that doesn’t show the whole picture. These nations have larger populations and more money to spent than average.

To uncover the real Olympic champion, we worked out which countries have won the most gold medals per person and per national wealth since 1996. Pleas click on Golds per person and golds per GDP on the table above to get a better picture.

We start at Atlanta ’96 because that was the first summer Olympics without the USSR. The USSR were a huge medal winner so a time span both with and without them gives inconsistent data.

Jamaica are top dogs

The standout nation from our research is Jamaica. They rank number one for golds per GDP, with 1,265 golds achieved for each $1 trillion of gross domestic product – the only country to achieve over 1,000. For comparison the USA scores 12!

Jamaica’s 6 golds per million people stat is also impressive, with only two nations able to better it. For comparison China scores 0.131.

This is in no small part down to their sprinting ability. Every single gold medal won by the Jamaican Olympic team since 1996 has been on the track (100m, 110m hurdles, 200m and 400m). What makes this even more impressive is that Jamaica only really came to the party from 2004. In Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000 they won just 1 gold medal. So hats off to the sprinters, who have pushed their nation to dizzy Olympic heights!

Cuba gets second place

Cuba rank an impressive 6th for golds per person and 5th for golds per GDP. The reason for this is combat sports. 18 of their 42 gold medals since 1996 have come in boxing, with each Olympics providing a minimum of 2 boxing golds. 11 gold medals have come from Judo and Wresting since 1996, meaning 70% of their overall triumphs have been in combat sports.

Boxing is a huge deal in Cuba. Of the 99,000 registered athletes in Cuba currently, 19,000 are boxers, with only 12 making the Olympic team.

North Korean flexing

Despite only having a GDP of $18 billion North Korea managed a monumental 10 golds. That gets them 3rd place in golds per GDP behind only Grenada and Jamaica. While the nation is getting great value for money here, they’re not doing so well per person, ranking 49th.

The North Korean’s perform admirably in weightlifting, winning 5 golds since Atlanta ’96. 3 of their triumphs have come in gymnastics, with the other 2 in wresting and judo. Clearly they are excelling in strength based events and reaping the rewards.

The recipe for their success is unknown. When their weightlifters were quizzed about their training methods back in 2014 they responded in cryptic fashion, with Om Yun Chol saying “I have a question for the journalists here, have you ever heard that an egg can break a stone?”

Former Soviet strength

The USSR was an Olympic force to be reckoned with before its dissolution. However, their legacy remains alive within the former states. Since 1996, these 15 countries have won 245 gold medals combined, being most successful in wresting (46 golds) followed by athletics (32), gymnastics (31) and boxing (25). Russia won 60.8% of those.

Each former soviet state performs well in golds per GDP. In fact, 12 of the 15 countries rank in the top 30.

Georgia performs best, ranked 4th for golds per GDP and 13th for golds per person. 11 former Soviet states beat Russia itself in golds per GDP and 5 do so in golds per person.

New Zealand beats Australia

For gold medals per person New Zealand ranks 5th and Australia ranks 8th.

For golds per GDP New Zealand ranks 24th, they highest of any major first world country. Meanwhile, Australia achieve almost half as many golds per GDP ranking 40th.

The sporting prowess of the 2 nations comes on the water. An amazing 69.5% of their combined gold medals since 1996 have come in water sports, with swimming being the most fruitful. Cycling is the next best with 18.5% of the 2 nation’s gold medal haul.

USA and China not so mighty after all

Anyone looking at the raw data for Olympic gold medals would assume China and The USA are performing admirably. However, our data suggests otherwise.

Ranking 72nd (China) and 73rd (USA) in golds per GDP proves the 2 powerhouses aren’t getting the best bang for their buck. The USA then ranks 37th in golds per person while China come a lowly 70th.

Substandard Subcontinent

By far the worst performing region by our metrics is the Indian Subcontinent – made up of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. Between these 5 countries only 1 gold medal was mustered since 1996, won by Abhinav Bindra of India in shooting at Beijing 2008.

Combined, the 5 nations have a population of nearly 1.8 billion people so a haul of 1 gold medal seems pretty pitiful. As developing nations you would assume their athletes are not getting the funding needed, but that is why we measure golds per GDP, at which they do just as poorly.

As the Head of the Indian Olympic Association mentions below, families traditionally favor giving their children a good education over focusing on sport, with the possible exception of cricket. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh all compete on the global cricketing stage, with the former 2 a match for anyone. This suggest these countries could compete if the desire was there.

“Sport has always taken a back seat vis a vis education” ~ Narayana Ramachandran, Head of the Indian Olympic Association