Two economists believe that the number of medals that will be won by any country at the 2014 Winter Olympic games in Sochi will be determined primarily by GDP. They have developed an economic model, tested it against previous Olympic results from 1964 to 2010 and have found that other factors have only a minor effect. They have used their model to make predictions for the 2014, XXII Olympic Winter Games at Sochi in Russia!
Economic Prediction of Medal Wins at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Madeleine Andreff and Wladimir Andreff (pdf: Andreff Sochi)
There is also a published version of the paper: W Andreff, Economic development as major determinant of Olympic medal wins: predicting performances of Russian and Chinese teams at Sochi Games, in Int. J. Economic Policy in Emerging Economies, 2013, 6, 314-340.
Abstract: Starting from an econometric model successfully used to explain and then predict the distribution of medal wins across nations at the Beijing Summer Olympics, a similar model is elaborated on with some different explanatory variables for estimating the determinants of medals won per nation at Winter Games. A Tobit estimation of the model based on data from 1964 to 2010 shows that GDP per capita, population, the endowment in ski and winter sports resorts, and a host country dummy are significant determinants of medal wins at Winter Olympics. Then the estimated model is used for predicting the sporting outcomes at the 2014 Sochi Games with a focus on Russia and China. The Russian team is expected to perform better than in Vancouver 2010 and to be ranked fourth behind the USA, Germany and Canada while the Chinese team would be ranked ninth, a performance doomed to improve in the future given China’s swift economic development.
In their base study the authors do warn that a pinch of salt would be called for and conclude:
All the above predictions must be taken with a pinch of salt. This is namely due to a number of surprising sporting outcomes. Indeed, there are many unexpected sporting outcomes observed ex post ( i.e. achieved outcomes markedly different from the forecast – even though it happens more with the FIFA World Cup than with Summer Olympics (M. & W. Andreff, 2010). Unexpected or surprising outcomes of a sport game or contest have not really been analysed so far. This happens when opponents in a game (contest) have clearly uneven sporting forces, and the underdog wins the favourite. Elaborating on a metrics to quantify surprising sporting outcomes should be a promising avenue for further research. It will be possible to check after Sochi 2014 whether Winter Olympics are characterised with many or few surprising sport outcomes.
For the time being our recommendation is: do not bet that Russia will win 24 medals at Sochi Winter Olympics! But, if Russia makes it with more than 27 medals you would be allowed to conclude that she performed very well, better than expected with an economic model, and that this must be due to exceptional efforts of Russian athletes and coaches before and during Sochi Games. If Russia would win less than 21 medals, you could join Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev in complaining that the Russian winter sports squad should really have done better – or that it was unexpectedly bad lucky.
The Russians are expecting to be the leading nation on the total medals table and they will not be pleased if they win less than 21 medals. Heads will roll!
If GDP really is the determining factor it should not be too difficult to devise a handicapping system to level the field of competition.
I am inclined to take this with a bucket rather than a pinch of salt.