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How Well Did Canada Really Do in the Rio Games?

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In many ways this summer's Olympics was a banner games for Canada. Sixteen-year-old Penny Oleksiak hauled in four medals including tying for gold in the women's 100 meter free-style swim. Sprinter Andre De Grasse took the bronze in the men's 100 meter run. With 22 total medals Canada ranked tenth among nations in its medal performance.


But, up total medals can be misleading. Some nations are much bigger and richer than others and field bigger teams that compete for more medals. In terms of population, for example, the U.S., is nearly almost 10 times the size of Canada.

With the help of my colleagues University of Toronto Martin Prosperity Institute colleague Charlotta Mellander and Taylor Blake, we ranked each nation's overall medal performance by their population, size of their economy, and the number of athletes on their Olympic teams.

When you look at Olympic results by these metrics, how does Canada stack up?


The chart above takes population size into account, showing the number of medals per 10 million people. Bigger countries have more people and a much bigger potential pool of athletes.

Canada is 32nd with 6.1 medals per 10 million people. This is better than the USA which falls to 44th place on this metric with 3.8 medals per 10 million people, Russia which dips to 43rd (3.9), Japan 46th (3.3) and China which falls all the way down to 76th (0.5 medals). But it is worse than Great Britain which ranks 20th (10.3)

Now tiny Grenada takes the top spot. It's one medal is equivalent to 93.6 medals per 10 million people. The Bahamas is second with 51.5, followed by Jamaica with 40.3, New Zealand 39.2, and Denmark with 26.4, and Croatia with 23.7. (In some cases, these numbers are higher than the countries' actual medal counts because their populations are lower than 10 million).


The next chart controls for the wealth of nations, charting the number of medals per $100 billion dollars of GDP. Richer countries mean that athletes grow up in more affluent families who can support their development and also have greater resources to invest in everything from training facilities to local and national sport's programs.

Canada is 53rd on this metric with 1.4 medals per $100 billion in GDP. This is again better than the US, which falls to 69th (with 0.67) and China is 70th (0.64), but worse than Russia, 34th (4.2) and Great Britain 42nd (2.4),

Grenada tops this list, too: Its one medal translates to more than 100 medals (102.2 per $100 billion GDP. Jamaica is next with 78.5, followed by Georgia (50.1), and Armenia (37.9).


We can also control for the efficiency of national Olympic teams--counting medals per Olympic team member. Bigger nations have bigger teams competing in more sports. Controlling for the number of medals per team member enables us to see how efficient teams of various sizes are in bringing home medals. This is perhaps the most useful metric as it shows the countries which are best at generating medals per member of their Olympic teams.

Canada is 45th with less than one medal (0.69) in per 10 Olympic athletes. This is far behind its larger peers. The USA and bigger nations do better on this metric. The United States rises to third with 2.1 medals per ten Olympic team members. Russia is fifth (1.98), Great Britain is eighth (1.8) and China is tenth (1.74). Japan is 22nd (1.2). Azerbaijan takes the top spot with 3.2 medals per ten Olympians and North Korea is second with 2.25, and Jamaica sixth with 1.86.

As I wrote in the Toronto Star last week:

"Canada's rank on this metric is much more daunting, because many big countries with large teams tend to do well on it. Of course, in a country famous for hockey and branded "We the North" the Summer Games may be something of an afterthought. But Canada has many advantages: it is a big country with a big team, not to mention that its openness to immigration gives it an edge in attracting talent from around the world. There is much to be proud of in the individual successes of athletes like Oleksiak and De Grasse. But, at a broader national level, it's time for Canada to up its summer game."

Richard Florida is the University Professor and Director of Cities at the Martin Prosperity Institute in the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.