The Olympic medals have all been handed out and the athletes are on their way home. Which countries surpassed expectations and which ones did worse than expected? And did this have anything to do with the state of their economies?
An extensive Goldman Sachs report entitled Olympics and Economics (a regular feature before each Olympic Games) predicted before the Games kicked off that the United States would top the tally with 36 gold medals. It also said the top 10 would include five G7 countries (the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy), two BRICs (China and Russia), one of the developing countries it dubs Next-11 (South Korea), and one additional developed and emerging market. These would be Australia and Ukraine, it said.
Close enough, except that Hungary took the place of Ukraine as the emerging economy in the Top 10 and the United States actually took 46 gold medals — more than Goldman had predicted.
Goldman Sachs quite rightly pointed out in its report that progress and improvement in economic growth have historically equaled progress in sport –check out South Korea’s 13 golds in London compared with none in Munich 40 years ago; its per capita income is now $23,000 compared with $2,300 back then. Clearly wealth is key: hence 9 of the top 20 medal winning nations also have among the highest per capita incomes.
Second, countries with a socialist past (or present) also usually put up a strong showing even if the people are poorer — 8 of the top 20 from London are either communist (China, Cuba and North Korea) or ex-Soviet bloc (Russia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and the Czech Republic).