Is New Zealand winning the Olympics?

Pix: Fairfax.

The friendly Australia- New Zealand rivalry is alive and well with claims being made by our Kiwi cousins that New Zealand is winning the Olympics.

Well, it depends how you count it.  Here’s how the rankings look at the moment (Sunday morning in Australia – check the links for the latest updated stats)

Number of gold medals?

1st – United States (26), followed by China (25) and Great Britain (14).

New Zealand is 13th and Australia is 19th.

Total medals?

Same top three. 1st – United States (54 medals), followed by China (53) and Great Britain (29).

Australia is 8th and New Zealand is 12th.

But what if we take into account population?  We’ve been fascinated by the new site ““, by Craig Nevill-Manning, which examines exactly this.  Craig, a New Zealander,  developed an earlier version of the site to annoy Australian colleagues.

This morning his hard work of recrunching the data has really paid off.

How do the countries rate in terms of gold medals per capita?

1st – New Zealand.  Australia way down in 24th.  United States 18th, China 29th – Great Britain again 11th.

But hang on.  This ignores all the other medals.  (And Australia has won 12 silver medals, so this should really help us).  So what happens if we look at total medals per capita?

1st – New Zealand, with 7 medals from its population of 4,432,620, for a ratio of one medal per 633,231 people, narrowly edging out Slovenia, with 3 medals from its population of 2,057,540.  Australia is in 4th place.  The United States is 34th, China is 47th and Great Britain is 11th.

Well that’s not really fair, either, is it.  A bronze is not as good as a silver (and more than half of New Zealand’s tally is bronze).  So what if we count all the medals, but weight gold and silver more highly to form a weighted average?

This time Australia leaps to 4th but New Zealand is still 1st. (population per weighted medal 277,038).

Ok. let’s change the weightings. The weighted average gives 4 points to gold, 2 to silver, 1 to bronze, significantly benefitting New Zealand with its 3 gold.  What if we only weight gold medals as 3?

Hmmm… Nope.  (Craig doesn’t do this but I just tried it in Excel).

Maybe we should not use whole population, given that Olympic athletes can’t be children and, except in a very few events, are not older adults?

Or should it really be about winning medals?  What about the percentage of athletes exceeding their Personal Best?  Or the impact on sports participation in the countries?

It can’t really be that I’m trying to find a synthesis method to give the answer that I’m looking for, can it?  I’m sure that Australia and New Zealand’s friendly rivalry doesn’t stoop to using dirty tactics?


5 comments to Is New Zealand winning the Olympics?

  • Yes of *course* New Zealand is winning the Olympics!

    But, more importantly, it’s clear we are doing far better than Australia. Trans-Tasman* rivalry is a long and entertaining tradition between our two fine countries, particularly when it comes to sporting events. [*The Tasman Sea is the body of water that separates us; it’s about a 3 hour flight “scross the ditch”.] I am sure our Canadian colleagues appreciate the importance of giving larger neighbors a good ribbing!

    The kiwis aren’t completely satisfied with just a “per head of population” win on the medals table though. It was much more fun in the 1984 Olympics when the running joke here was:

    “Why does Australia want to merge with New Zealand and become one country?”

    “Because it would *triple* their gold medal count!”

    That year we won 8 golds to Australia’s 4.

    It may not be quite such a thrashing this time around, but we know we are on track when the Aussies start trying to cook the medal table analysis this way and that … ;)

  • Patricia Rogers

    What a difference a day makes!
    Current stats (after the 100m men’s final):
    Most medals per capita: 1st Slovenia, 2nd New Zealand, 3rd Jamaica
    Gold medals per capita: 1st Jamaica, 2nd New Zealand, 3rd Slovenia
    Weighted medals per capita: 1st Jamaica, 2nd Slovenia, 3rd New Zealand

    And I just thought of another way of counting this.

    Number of actual medals awarded (Hint: Australia does well in women’s hockey and medley relay swimming)…

  • David Earle

    Our “West Island” cousins are finally seeing the sense of joining our country:

  • David Earle

    Sorry, Patricia, I just can’t resist asking – but who is in the semi finals of womens’ hockey? Do tell.

  • And now, what a difference one medal for one country can make!

    Grenada, population 110,821, has wiped the floor with the rest of us on all the population-based medal tables by winning one gold!

    Right now it’s:

    Most medals per capita: 1st Grenada, 2nd Jamaica, 3rd New Zealand
    … 9th Australia … 32nd Canada … 40th USA … 67th China

    Gold medals per capita: 1st Grenada, 2nd Jamaica, 3rd New Zealand
    … 13th Australia … 23rd USA … 41st Canada … 42nd China

    Weighted medals per capita: 1st Grenada, 2nd Jamaica, 3rd New Zealand
    … 7th Australia … 36th USA … 39th Canada … 61st China

    [Quick update, from a few hours later and now the Bahamas wins one gold medal and slips straight into the top three of the per capita rankings!]

    There’s even a ranking for medals per GDP, which still has Grenada in the lead:
    Most medals per GDP: 1st Grenada, 2nd Jamaica, 3rd Mongolia
    … 15th New Zealand … 39th Australia … 48th China … 52nd Canada … 62nd USA