Olympic medal rankings

For the medal table for the 2012 summer Olympics, see 2012 Summer Olympics medal table.
For the medal table for the 2012 summer Paralympics, see 2012 Summer Paralympics medal table.

The Olympic medal table is a method of sorting the medal placements of countries in the modern day Olympics and Paralympics. Officially, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) does not recognize a ranking of participating countries at the Olympic Games.[1] Nevertheless, the IOC does publish medal tables for information purposes, showing the total number of Olympic medals earned by athletes representing each country's respective National Olympic Committee.[2] The convention used by the IOC is to sort by the number of gold medals the athletes from a country have earned. In the event of a tie in the number of gold medals, the number of silver medals is taken into consideration, and then the number of bronze medals. If two countries have an equal number of gold, silver, and bronze medals, they are ordered in the table alphabetically by their IOC country code.


The Olympic Charter, Chapter 1, section 6 states that:

The Charter goes even further in Chapter 5, section 58, expressly prohibiting the IOC from producing an official ranking:

According to Australian IOC member Kevan Gosper, the IOC began to accommodate medals tables in 1992, releasing 'information' based on the 'gold first' standard.[1] The medal tables provided on its website carry this disclaimer:

Ranking systems

"I believe each country will highlight what suits it best. One country will say, 'Gold medals.' The other country will say, 'The total tally counts.' We take no position on that."

As the IOC does not consider its sorting of nations to be an official ranking system, various methods of ranking nations are used.

Medal count ranking

The gold first ranking system described above is used by most of the world media, as well as the IOC. While the gold first ranking system has been used occasionally by some American media outlets, newspapers in the United States and Canada primarily publish medal tables ordered by the total number of medals won,[4][5][6][7][8][9] and Canada used the total medal count on the official website for the Vancouver Olympics.[10]

This difference in rankings has its origins in the early days of the Olympics, when the IOC did not publish or recognise medal tables.[1] Before 2008, the difference in ranking system received scant notice, since in recent Olympic history the country that led in total medals also led in the gold count. China and the U.S. bucked this trend at the 2008 Summer Olympics, topping the gold and total medal tallies respectively,[11] and a similar situation occurred at the 2010 Winter Olympics when Canada and the U.S. finished with the most gold medals and total medals respectively.[10] Other exceptions are the 1896, 1912, and 1964 Summer Olympics when the United States finished first in gold medal count but second in the overall medal count. In an August 24, 2008 news conference, IOC President Jacques Rogge confirmed that the IOC does not have a view on any particular ranking system.[3]

Demographic ranking

Another ranking system in use is the per-capita ranking, where the number of medals is divided by the population of the country.[12][13] This does not take into account the fact that every country is limited in the number of participants they can send per event, sometimes as few as one athlete per event, including one team in team events. Countries with a large population, such as China or the United States, usually do not rank highly here,[12] since they cannot send as many participants per capita as some smaller countries.

Alternative methods for ranking with an adjustment based on national GDP have been published by The Guardian for 2012 Summer Olympics, recognizing that financial resources as well as population play a role in determining sporting success.[14][13]

While other sources adjust for a combination of population, GDP, past record and host-nation advantage.[15][16][17]

Weighted ranking

Systematic rankings based upon a weighted point system with the most points awarded to a gold medal have also been devised. They have been popular in some places at some time,[weasel words] but none of them have been adopted on a large scale.

In 1908, the British press invented a ranking system based on awarding gold medals 5 points, silver medals 3 points, and bronze medals 1 point (5:3:1).[11]

In 2004, a linear system awarding 3 points to gold, 2 points to silver and 1 point to bronze (3:2:1) was used by the Australian Geography Teachers Association.[18] This weighting values a gold medal as much weight as a silver and a bronze medal combined.

In response to the 2008 controversy over medal rank, a New York Times article on the subject described a points system in which 4 points was awarded for every gold medal, 2 points for every silver medal, and 1 point for every bronze medal (4:2:1).[19]

See also


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