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Discussion about the mediocre performance of the U.S Olympic team when viewed on a per-capita basis

Posted by John Reed on

Here is a web site that ranks countries by how many Rio medals they won per capita:
Congratulations to the top three: Grenada, Bahamas, and Jamaica. Grenada and Jamaica also were the top two in weighted medals by GDP. National wealth does not buy you medals.

Per capita, the U.S. ranked 43 out of 86 thereby winning the gold medal of mediocrity. Russia was 42nd. The three least competitive countries per capita were India, Nigeria, and the Philippines.

Interestingly, five of the six countries whose currencies I recommend were in the top 25: New Zealand 4th, Denmark 5th, Australia 14th, Sweden 16th, Switzerland 24th. The 6th—Canada—was 31st. I picked them based on fiscal and monetary policy, integrity, and freedom.

Also interesting, the rest of the top ten are Eastern European countries: Croatia, Slovenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Hungary.

Mikhail Kriachkov You have to remember one simple fact too: even if any given country like USA, China, India or Russia has a lot of good, medal-worthy athletes - the space in national team is limited. You cannot send 5 US basketball teams to get 5 olympics medals, even if you have enough talented people to fill them up.
At the same time all talented basketball players in a small country, like, say, Lithuania - can reach olympics without strict prelimiary selection.
So the statictics like on that site is pretty naive.
John T. Reed What you are saying is that if the players on the other four potential U.S. basketball teams had chosen a less talented sport that is in the Olympics, we would have won more medals. I doubt that.
First, the U.S. basketball team struggled at times in the Olympic tournament. Second, many of their foreign opponents were current NBA players. Third, I coached and have written ten books about coaching sports. Parents and kids are very conscious of the option of moving to a less crowded sport. Here In CA my freshman football teams lose a lot of people to water polo, rugby, and lacrosse. We still had 88 out for the team one year and cut to 55, but only 11 can be on the field and many of the 44 non-starters change sports to play one where they DO start.

Also, in the authoritarian countries, making sure the kids are distributed optimally for Olympic success is done by testing and fiat in elementary school. Your theory would suggest the countries who do that would win the most medals per capita.

My friend Alex Krychev is from Bulgaria. He wanted to be a soccer player. But the then Communist Bulgaria government tested him in elementary school and said, “No, you’e a weight lifter.” He had to go away to weight lifter school thereafter. He won the European championship and a silver medal at Munich, then defected to the US during a competition in Gettysburg, PA.

Those stats at the site I linked to above are multifaceted and maybe meaningless in some categories, but the per capita number is very much the issue when youth leagues are striving for parity. The cardinal sin in that effort is to allow a particular team to draw from a larger population pool than other teams.
The per capita comparison is a valid and newsworthy illustration of the importance of DNA and the relative unimportance of wealth, federal government sports management, or being a developed country in Olympic competition. I was inspired to do that Google search by an O’Reilly talking points where he said our success in the games was due to our superior character especially will to win. He also cited World War II. Bull.

We won Rio because of the size of our population, our greater wealth per capita than India and China who have more people, a longer tradition of sports participation, and more leisure time to pursue such things.
We won World War II because of both a willingness to fight—I count only 14 countries out of over 200 that have been willing to fight in the last 150 or so years—and our population size and powerful economy. Both Hitler and Stalin were astonished at our ability to deliver men and materiel to the war zones. Japan probably was too, but they were inscrutably silent on the matter.

We won the war because of General Motors and General Electric more than General Eisenhower and General MacArthur. I’m not taking anything away from our troops, who included my father and uncles. But our having 100 aircraft carriers in the Pacific at the end of the war, compared to zero for the Japanese, was at least as important as the greatness of the sailors on them.

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