Predicting Who Will Win the Most Medals in the 2012 Olympics

China is expected to land the most golds while the United States should bag the most medals overall.

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The Olympics are fast approaching and Olympic fever has reached boiling point in London. Not even the awful British weather can dampen spirits. The city has been preparing for no less than seven years for the 2012 Summer Olympics. In the words of London Mayor Boris Johnson, "Wiff Waff (also known as Ping Pong) is coming home!"

Some things about the London 2012 Olympics are easy to predict: Records will be broken, Usain Bolt will probably win a medal, and it will rain a lot. What is harder to predict is how well the 204 competing nations, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, will fare in the medal count—unless you have an Olympic medal prediction formula such as the one created by Andrew Bernard, Professor of International Economics at the Tuck School of Business. The formula, based on economic variables, has been remarkably accurate since it was unveiled before the Sydney Games in 2000. Andrew Bernard has since retired from medal predictions, and—for this Olympics—handed the baton to me.

[See Photos of London 2012: Make Way for the Olympics]

What does economics have to do with the Olympics? Quite a lot, it turns out. The prediction formula is based on the concept that Olympic athletes are a lot like complicated machines. The more people there are in a country—the larger the population—the more complicated machines there are that can potentially be transformed into Olympic athletes. The more resources per person that a country has—the higher the GDP per capita—the more resources that can be invested in these complicated machines to turn them into Olympic athletes. An Olympic athlete, like any machine, will also last for a while, so performance in the previous Olympics is an important factor in determining future performance. And finally, whether a country is a host or not will play a role in determining how many medals that country will win.

My London 2012 study presents country-level predictions for total and gold medals for the upcoming Olympic Games. For me, the most exciting result of my work is that, due to a strong host advantage, the United Kingdom (my home country) will move into third place from fourth place based on gold medal totals. The United Kingdom will also place fourth in the total medal table with 62 medals—15 more than we took home in 2008. The United States has even more to celebrate: It is expected to hold the top spot in the total medals ranking with 103 medals.

Here are the projected top five countries for gold medals, along with the number they are expected to win:

  1. China 48
  2. U.S.A. 35
  3. United Kingdom 25
  4. Russia 21
  5. Germany 15
  6. And here are the projected top five countries for total medals, along with those numbers:

    1. U.S.A. 103
    2. China 94
    3. Russia 67
    4. United Kingdom 62
    5. Australia 42
    6. With 8.8 million tickets sold, and over 10,000 athletes performing in 26 different sports—economics or no economics, the 2012 London Olympics will be a jolly good show. Let the games begin!

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