Wednesday, September 28, 2016


Now that the excitement brought on by the Rio Olympics has died down, it is time to have a sober second look on how well Canada’s athletes have done and consider this record in planning for the Tokyo Olympics in four years.

The 4 gold, 3 silver and 15 bronze medals won by our athletes add up to a total of 22, which puts Canada into 10th place.[i] This rank has received the bulk of media attention and is remarkably good, given that 207 teams had been in the competition and 86 of them had won at least one medal.

One problem with using the sum of medals as a metric of success in the minds of many is that it counts equally medals of all colours. For this reason, some prefer ranking on the basis of gold medals won. By this standard, Canada has achieved a very respectable rank of 21st.

Another method is used widely to take account of the fact that medals are of different colour. It assigns 4 points for gold, 2 for silver and 1 for bronze. Canada’s medal count weighted in this way comes to 37, which puts Canada in an excellent 17th  place.

However, these rankings fail to account of differences in the size of countries that sent teams to Rio. Canada is in 33rd place on a list of all countries ranked by the number of medals won for every million of people.

Canada is in 62nd place according to the count of medals won per billion dollars of national income, which reflects the availability countries’ financial resources used for training and selecting athletes.

Team Size and Medals

There is one final and important metric used for ranking countries. It is based on data shown in the table below: the weighted number of medals won and the size of the team, which allows calculation of the percent of team members who have won a medal (the ratio of team size over the number of medals).

The table shows that 53 percent of the US team members won a medal, which ranks that country in second place. Of Canada’s team, only 11 percent won a medal and the country ranks 53rd.[ii]

Size of Team
Ratio of
Medals Won
Team Size/Medals
United States
Great Britain
North Korea
New Zealand

The countries shown in the table were selected for this analysis because their programs for the preparation and selection of athletes are of interest to Canada’s efforts to send successful teams to the Olympics.

Relevant for this quest is the success of the US team. It is due mainly to the competitive sports programs of its colleges and universities, which train and identify talented athletes for the Olympics.

The successes of the teams from North Korea and China are the result of their governments’ sponsorship of expensive training facilities and coercive methods which have little to teach democratic countries like Canada.

Of greatest relevance to the evaluation of Canada’s program is the success of countries like Jamaica and Kenya, ranked in 6th and 9th place, respectively. Both countries sent relatively small teams of athletes who competed in a small number of sports. Jamaicans dominated the sprint events. Kenyans were prominent in endurance races. Their success appears to be based mainly on their focus on a limited range of sports in which they competed.

Great Britain’s medal haul was its largest in 100 years and was based on rich financial support from the National Lottery arranged by the government.[iii] This support for the team in Rio was a record level. But the country’s success is also due to the same policy used by Jamaica and Kenya. A limited number of sports with past success received most of the financial support. To the dismay of many in Britain, some very popular sports like basketball ended up without representation in Rio. 

Canada, New Zealand and Australia have very similar histories, cultures and per capita incomes. New Zealand’s population is 4.5 million, Australia’s 24 million and Canada’s 36 million. These figures suggest that Canada should have outperformed the other two countries. In fact, it ranks the lowest in 53rd place while New Zealand and Australia are in 35th and 44th place, respectively.

The data on the relative performance of Canada’s athletes in the Rio Olympics suggests that its methods for preparing and selection them could be improved. One approach for doing so would encourage more competition among students of the country’s colleges and universities and participation in US academic leagues.

More financial support from governments and the public sector would help, but within any level of such resources, the largest improvement in the success of future Canadian teams in the Olympics is likely to come from limiting the range of sports that receive financial support and the attention of trainers.

Canada has engaged in this policy in the past and it is possible that the low ranking in the Rio Olympics is the result of the focus on the support of competition in the Winter Olympics, but an evaluation of this proposition requires more resources than are available to me.

Political Correctness and the Rio Games

A final note on the Rio Olympics is that they have not been criticized by activists and politicians concerned with fairness, gender balance, human rights, climate change and other efforts to create a better world. There is much to criticize.

·       Out of 207 countries 121 won no medals at all.
·       Out of 22 medals, 16 were won by Canadian women and only 6 by men.
·       Nearly all of the sprints and foot-races were won by black men and women.

Some aspects of the Games would be subject to much political protest if they were found elsewhere.

·       The money spent on the Olympics could have been used to help the needy in the world.
·       Canadian athletes competed against athletes from countries known for the human right violations, creating legitimacy for the often tyrannical governments of these countries. 
·       The Games encouraged nationalist sentiments as medals were awarded while national flags were raised and anthems were played, undermining efforts to create a peaceful world of cooperation and sharing.
·       The games glorified the use of weapons such fire-arms, bows and arrows, sabres and swords, undermining efforts to use dialogue and compromise to settle conflicts. 
·       Horses were confined to small boxes in the holds of airplanes while on their flights to and from Rio, which led to inhumane physical and emotional suffering.
·       The travel of athletes and officials resulted in huge emissions of green-house gases, contributing to catastrophic global warming.

Fortunately, activists and politicians concerned with these conditions stayed away from criticizing the Rio Olympics on these grounds. Let us hope that they will do so in the future. 

[i] All of the data are found in the publication “Medals Per Capita: Olympic Glory in Proportion” found at the website

[ii] This calculation disregards the fact that some athletes won more than one medal. It also disregards the fact that all members of a medal winning team receive a medal.  The metric includes only the medal won by the team.
[iii] The analysis of the success of Great Britain’s athletes in Rio draws on:
Ahmed, Murad, Joe Leahy and Samantha Pearson (2016), “Rio Olympics 2016: Britain emerges as sporting superpower”, Financial Times, August 22, found at and

Gibson, Owen, (2016), “Team GB’s Olympic success: five factors behind their Rio medal rush” Rio 2016 Sports Blog The Guardian, August 15, found at