LOS ANGELES, Jul. 6, 2011 – There is little doubt now that the arenas and stadia in which the Games of the XXX Olympiad in London next year will be filled to capacity. Fans will be packed in, cheering primarily for the home team, which will be expected to bring home more medals than in any recent Games.
Which begs the question: just how many more medals can a home country expect when hosting an Olympic Games?
The answer is – unless you’re the United States – quite a few more.
In what can charitably be called the “post-boycott era” of the six most recent Games, from Seoul (1988) through Beijing (2008), the British were also-rans on the total-medals table until they got serious around 2000:
1988: 24 medals (10th overall): 5 gold/10 silver/9 bronze.
1992: 20 medals (12th overall): 5 gold/3 silver/12 bronze.
1996: 15 medals (=17th overall): 1 gold/8 silver/6 bronze.
2000: 28 medals (9th overall): 11 gold/10 silver/7 bronze.
2004: 30 medals (=9th overall): 9 gold/9 silver/12 bronze.
2008: 47 medals (4th overall): 19 gold/13 silver/15 bronze.
Of particular pride for the British in 2008 was that they topped the Commonwealth in medals, finally edging out Australia by one medal, 47-46, for the first time since Seoul, 20 years prior.
So what about London in 2012, especially since the British government has sunk a staggering £304.4 million (about $490 million U.S.) into its sports governing bodies to prepare a quality team for 2012 (the funding details – with UK Sport whining that even this amount isn’t enough – are here)?
History says that the Brits can expect about 14 more medals to their Beijing total, which would keep them nicely on top of the Commonwealth medal standings and in fourth place overall.
The 14-added-medals projection comes from an interesting study comparing the pre-hosting, host year and post-hosting medals won by host nations from 1988 on, when all of the top countries were in attendance:
(Please also note the number of medals won by a future host country two Games before they host [taking place before being named as host a year later] and in the Games immediately before, when a strong national effort is undertaken to maximize home-country advantage later.)
1988 host: Korea
The Koreans saw their medal fortunes rise considerably, even from a boycotted 1984 Games in Los Angeles to a much higher level just four years later. Impressively, the Koreans were able to maintain a level close to that in the three subsequent Games:
> 1980: did not compete.
> 1984: 19 medals (6-6-7).
> 1988: 33 medals as host (12-10-11= +14).
> 1992: 27 medals (12-5-12).
> 1996: 27 medals (7-15-5).
> 2000: 28 medals (8-10-10).
1992 host: Spain
The brilliantly-managed Games in Barcelona featured a strong Spanish team, which came from nowhere to surprise even themselves:
> 1984: 5 medals (1-2-2).
> 1988: 4 medals (1-1-2).
> 1992: 22 medals as host (13-7-2 = +18).
> 1996: 17 medals (5-6-6).
> 2000: 11 medals (3-3-5).
> 2004: 19 medals (3-11-5).
1996 host: United States
The U.S. is the only nation in this study to actually lose ground in terms of total medals compared to the previous Games during a host year. The gold-medal count, however, went up considerably.
> 1988: 94 medals (36-31-27).
> 1992: 108 medals (37-34-37).
> 1996: 101 medals as host (44-32-25 = -7).
> 2000: 94 medals (38-24-32).
> 2008: 110 medals (36-38-36).
2000 host: Australia
The Aussies have great pride in their sporting tradition and it showed in Sydney, with a strong performance:
> 1992: 27 medals (7-9-11).
> 1996: 41 medals (9-9-23).
> 2000: 58 medals as host (16-25-17 = +17).
> 2004: 49 medals (17-16-16).
> 2008: 46 medals (14-15-17).
2004 host: Greece
The Greeks barely got the Games off on time, and after a nice build-up in 2000, they did only slightly better as hosts. Of course, losing potential medalists like sprinters Kostantinos Kerteris and Ekaterina Thanou to a faked motorcycle accident didn’t help.
> 1996: 8 medals (4-4-0).
> 2000: 13 medals (4-6-3).
> 2004: 16 medals as host (6-6-4 = +3).
> 2008: 4 medals (0-2-2).
2008 host: China
There was no way the Chinese were going to miss an opportunity to show they had arrived as a world athletic power, and they didn’t, with the largest number of gold medals since the Soviets in 1988:
> 2000: 59 medals (28-16-15).
> 2004: 63 medals (32-17-14).
> 2008: 100 medals as host (51-21-28 = +37).
Adding up the differential among these six hosts shows that the home nation has won a combined 82 more medals – an average of 13.7 – as host, than in the Games before. What does that mean for the Brits? If we can believe the numbers, the 47 medals won in 2008 should increase to 61 or so next year, a nice showing that should place fourth behind the American, Chinese and Russian teams.
Also, according to the numbers, every host country – from 1988 through 2008 – won fewer medals in the Games after they hosted. China will be looking to break this trend in 2012, but it won’t be easy; the average loss is just less than eight medals, a total of 39 among the five hosts from 1988-2004.
But for host Britain, a 61-medal output would be the most since it was host to the 1908 Games, where it led the medal parade with 146 in all, including 56 golds. Of course, that was the greatest-ever increase for a home country, a stunning 144 medals more than Britain won in St. Louis four years earlier. Could lightning strike again?
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