Want to win more medals? Host the Games!

PALM DESERT, Aug. 3, 2016 – Why host the Olympic Games? In addition to spending a ton of money and receiving even more scrutiny, it’s also a near-sure way to improve your medal count.

Based on a study of the medals won by the host country in the past seven Games, the host Brazilians can expect to win an average of 14 more medals than the 17 they took home – their most ever – from the prior Games in London (3 gold, 5 silver and 9 bronze). If it can reach 31 medals, Brazil would rank in the top ten in national medal count, an outstanding performance. It has never ranked higher than 16th (in 2012).

We surveyed the host-country medal counts beginning with the last Games that was not widely boycotted: Seoul in 1988. Except for the U.S. in 1996, the host nation’s medal count went up solidly each time (and then went down afterwards, but often settling at a higher plateau):

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 = -6).
  • 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 = -1).
  • 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 = -7).
  • 2004: 102 medals (36-39-27).
  • 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 = -9).
  • 2008: 46 medals (14-15-17).
  • 2012: 35 medals (7-16-12).

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. They haven’t done much since.

  • 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 = -9).
  • 2012: 2 medals (0-0-2).

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).
  • 2012: 88 medals (38-27-23 = -12).

2012 host: Great Britain
The United Kingdom poured millions of pounds into training its athletes for the first Games in Britain since 1948, and they were ready, adding 18 medals to their 2008 total, even better than the average of +14 for prior hosts:

  • 2000: 28 medals (11-10-7).
  • 2004: 30 medals (9-9-12).
  • 2008: 47 medals (19-13-15).
  • 2012: 65 medals as host (29-17-19 = +18).

2016 host: Brazil:
Based on the prior seven games, host countries have won an average of 14.23 more medals when hosting (+100 from 1988-2012) the Games.

  • 2004: 10 medals (5-2-3).
  • 2008: 15 medals (3-4-8).
  • 2012: 17 medals (3-5-9).
  • 2016: As host?

Also, according to the numbers, every host country – from 1988 through 2012 – won fewer medals in the Games held after they hosted. The average loss is 7.3 medals, a total of 44 among the six hosts from 1988-2008. That would put the Brits at 58, likely still atop the Commonwealth nations and perhaps close to the depleted Russian team in Rio.

And what of Japan, the next host? Look for an improvement in its medal count, too, as its national federations ramp up for 2020. From 1992 through 2012, countries selected as the next host have seen their medal totals increase by an average of 5.7 medals per Games (40 over seven hosts). Japan was sixth in the medal count in London with 38 total medals, so history projects them for 43-44 in Rio.

Thus, if nothing else, hosting an Olympics is a good way to give the home folks more to cheer about. Is it worth it? Another question for another column, much later in August.

Rich Perelman has served and supported organizing committees of 20 multi-day, multi-venue events, including five Olympic Games, in the U.S., Canada and Europe. In addition to nearly 100 books and pamphlets, he has written for the Los Angeles Times, Track & Field News, Universal Sports and many other publications.

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