Let The Medal Tallies Begin
THE DISMAL science has some bright news for China: its athletes have a shot at topping the medals table at the Beijing Olympics.
PricewaterhouseCoopers released a study that estimates China will win 88 medals during the Games this August, followed by the U.S. with 87 and Russia with 79. However, the report's author, PWC's London-based Head of Macroeconomics John Hawksworth, is quick to point out that China and the U.S. are 'basically neck and neck' in competition for the top spot.
PWC has conducted the study for the Summer Olympics since the 2000 Games in Sydney, and its China operation wasn't involved in coming up with the estimate. 'It's just a break from our normal serious economic analysis,' says Mr. Hawksworth.
Performing well is serious business for Chinese authorities, who have made topping the medals tally a tacit goal despite publicly playing down expectations. China came in third, with 63 medals, during the Athens Games in 2004.
The study isn't a prediction of Games performance, says Mr. Hawksworth -- it's more of a benchmark to judge a country's performance. The economists didn't try to predict whether any individual athletes would win. Rather, they made a statistical model that took into account historical performance, political and economic factors, as well as a boost that athletes from the home team usually seem to get.
Population and size of an economy are big factors in his model, but culture also plays a factor, says Mr. Hawksworth. He points out, for example, that tiny Australia always performs far better in the Olympics than huge India. 'Everyone in India is mad about cricket, but not the Olympics,' he says. By his calculations, some 90% of a country's performance in the Games medal tally is determined by these political and economic factors. 'And 10% is down to individual genius, or those other factors that can't be explained through science,' says Mr. Hawksworth.
'It would be a rather boring Olympics if it was totally predictable,' he adds.
For example, benchmarks for the 2004 Olympics ran afoul of both individual feats and doping scandals. PWC benchmarked an Athens tally of 70 for the U.S., Russia 64, China 50, Germany 45, Australia 41 and Greece 29. The actual outcome was U.S. 103, Russia 92, China 63, Australia 49, Germany 48 and Greece 16.