Team GB top the 2012 Olympics medal table …. Oh yes they do!

Great Britain has received near universal praise for hosting an enthusiastic and well run Olympics and to have achieved 3rd in the medal table is much better than any Brit could have hoped for – or is it?

There are two common methods for calculating medal table placings.  The first used by GB and many others is to rank by Golds, and if even on Golds by Silver, and likewise by Bronze.  This places US first, followed by China, GB, Russia.  The US use an approach with total medals won as the primary key and on this system, GB falls to 4th swapping places with Russia.

If there are two methods of calculating table positions are there others and how would GB do based on these?

It seems to me that to be fair to small nations that just cannot expect to win tens of medals we should base the tables on best use of resources.   Surprise, surprise GB comes top of the table based on this “best use of resources” criteria, the top five in the medal table are as follows – the ranking is based on “Resource number”, the lower the better.

Nation Ranking Number
Great Britain 12.08
Jamaica 12.09
Republic of Korea 15.21
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea 18.05
Hungary 19.19

So I can happily announce that Team GB are the best Olympic team in the 2012 Olympics!!

So is this a true conclusion, or just fiction?  It is in fact true, but as that great line “There are lies, damned lies and statistics” suggests, you need to understand how I came by these figures – and whilst 100% true there is a level of fitting the figures to get the conclusion needed, for which I blame Jamaica (the Lightening Bolt factor) and Grenada (so small in resources that their one Gold medal is a distorting factor).

To start the process I went to the CIA World Factbook  and copied in details of Geographic Size, Population, GDP and GDP per capita for each nation with at least one Gold and entered these details into a spreadsheet with the basic medal data from the 2012 Olympics – a copy is here: Olympics table.

I then divided each of these four Resource Factors by the number of Golds each nation achieved and separately by their total number of medals too.  I then sorted the nations by each of these 8 Resource Achievement columns.  For each sort the nation with the best use of resources (lowest number) was ranked 1, the next 2 and so on.  If you then add up the total of each of these 8 rankings you get a total Resource Number for each nation.  The top five on this basis are: Jamaica; Hungary; Cuba; Granada; GB.

This of course does not put GB first.  My first modification was to remove GDP and Population as they are already represented by GDP per Capita; working on best uses of resources in terms of available territory and money per head of population we get a resource based table that seems much fairer.  Then I considered only Golds as this is the most common factor used in medal tables.  However, in this case the UK is tied equal with Jamaica, and so we’re not quite there yet.  So in the event of a tie it seems fair to work on basis of lowest GDP per Capita for all medals won, in which case GB in position 8 just shades Jamaica in position 9.  (This “tie ranking” is given in the overall Ranking Number by addition of a fraction equal to GDP per Capita place/100.)

(As always there is also another small assumption used to make things better for my intended result – I used the Purchasing Power Parity version of GDP posted in the CIA World Factbook, rather than the official exchange rate version of GDP posted in $.  My justification is that exchange rates are artificial banking inspired numbers and purchasing parity makes more sense – in reality smaller nations usual have a larger PPP GDP value that pure GDP value which makes GB figures overall better!)

If you’re read this far, there is a business lesson to all this.  Be careful of figures representing anything in position order – it all depends on what criteria you use and its easy to find criteria that present the data in the order you’d like to see (or more appropriately the originator wishes to see) – and to make that selection seem fair when presented too!

About Julian Ranger

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Posted on August 12, 2012, in General and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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