Thursday, February 18, 2010

Being the Home Country Increases Your Olympic Medals

Summary: A data analysis of the past nine Olympics finds one reason teams want the games in their home countries.

I know this isn’t strictly political, but hopefully it discourages the sort of partisanship over sports we saw when Republicans cheered Chicago’s bid-loss for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

While watching curling, I noticed that the vast majority of cheering from the crowd was for Canada. This really shouldn’t be a surprise, as the games are hosted there, but it got me thinking: “does being the hosting country give you a ‘home-field advantage?’”

So I spent some time overlooking and processing data on the past nine Olympics – five Summer Olympics, four Winter Olympics.

I decided not to go back before the 1992 games in Barcelona because of the disparities there would undoubtedly be between the Cold War era and post-Cold War Olympics, which would almost certainly throw-off the results.

Taking into account the fact that some countries do better in different Olympics (for example, Spain and Greece – while they have hosted Summer games recently – have not won Winter medals yet) and the fact that more events have been added over the years, we find the following results.

(Click Image to Expand)

With the exception of Italy during the 2006 Torino games, every year the home country takes a larger percentage of the medals than they would on average. Additionally, there is often an even sharper increase in the percentage of gold medals (indicated by the numbers in parentheses) taken by the country hosting the Olympics.

See the full data set here:

So one would expect Canada to win six or seven medals more than they would otherwise – including about one or two additional golds (assuming the 11.48% gold increase Japan had in 1998 was an outlier which can be ignored) – this year. We’ll have to wait until the games are over to be sure.

In the meantime, hopefully we Americans can cheer for our athletes – rather than against the politicians we oppose – when it comes to the Olympics.

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