Summer Olympics 2012

Impressed With the US Olympic Medal Tally? Try Grenada

The top of the Olympics medals table was, as predicted, a struggle between the world’s biggest economy, the United States, and its second-biggest China for first place. Yet when population and GDP are factored in to the medals tally, the biggest winner is in fact tiny Caribbean island Grenada.

Tower Bridge and City of London financial district
Source: Dominic Burke | Getty Images

Grenada’s single gold, from men’s 400 meter sprint runner Kirani James, equaled one medal per 100,000 people living on the island, according to figures from AFP, the World Bank and the CIA World Factbook (click here for a table). The island celebrated with a half-day holiday last week.

Athletics powerhouse Jamaica, which famously dominated the men’s sprint events, led by Usain Bolt, comes second when ranked by medals per number of population. With 12 medals, that makes one per 200,000 people living on the islands.

Grenada was also at the top of the table when countries were ranked by per capita medal value by investment bank ING, followed by equally tiny Bahamas and then Jamaica.

The relationship between sport and power elsewhere has been a part of the Olympicssince the Soviet Union beat the U.S. in the medals tally in the 1956 Games in Melbourne.

After the break-up of the Soviet Union left its selectors with fewer athletes to choose from, China became the main rival to the U.S. at the top of the table. The host nation, famed for its rigorous selection and training of promising young athletes, succeeded in dominating the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Yet London has been less successful, and it finished below the U.S. in the overall medals tally.

Bolt Clear Olympic Winner in Monetary Terms
Bolt Clear Olympic Winner in Monetary Terms

Its performance was still markedly better than that of other well-known nations in the Asia-Pacific region. Australia has been forced into a national enquiry about its relatively poor performance: tenth in the official medals table with just seven golds – a quarter of less-fancied Great Britain’s total. It falls even further down when population and its GDP, which has increased in recent years as Chinese demand for its resources grew, are taken into account.

Emerging powerhouse India, and more developed Indonesia and Singapore, both failed to win a single gold medal – and were close to the bottom of the rankings when GDP and population were taken into account too.

India’s team came back with one medal per 200 million people in its burgeoning population. By this ranking, they did a thousand times worse than Grenada.

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia, which brought home one bronze medal, had the highest GDP per medal.

Host nation Great Britain, third in the medals table with a better-than-predicted 29 gold medals, also falls down the rankings when its population and GDP are taken into account. It fell to 13th in the per capita medal value table.

Brazil, which will host the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, came just 22nd in the overall medals table and did even worse when its large population was taken into account (click here for a list of Olympics boom and bust cities).