Mark Lee

About Mark Lee

Editor, author and writer with career spanning print, radio, television and new media.

When the medals are tallied, will Jamaican and Caribbean athletes be giant slayers at the London 2012 Summer Olympics, July 27 to August 12, where the tracks, pools and pits are ready for the runners, jumpers, divers, throwers and other performers?

A PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) model is forecasting that among insular Caribbean countries Jamaica will retain its medal tally of 11 as compared to Beijing 2008, while Cuba’s total will decline to 20 from 24, even as superpower nations the USA, China and Russia retain their top three status with some juggling of their numbers.

“In general, the number of medals won increases with the population and economic wealth of the country, but less than proportionately…,” wrote PwC’s UK Chief Economist John Hawksworth, in his Modelling Olympic performance -Economic briefing paper, released in mid-June.

“The following economic and political factors were found to be statistically significant in explaining the number of medals won by each country at previous Olympic Games:

  • population;
  • average income levels (measured by GDP per capita at PPP exchange rates);
  • whether the country was previously part of the former Soviet/communist bloc (including Cuba and China); and
  • whether the country is the host nation.”

Against the background of Jamaica’s 11 medal take at Beijing, led by the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, and Veronica Campbell-Brown in the sprints, and with the country’s relatively small population coupled with an economy under siege, Abeng News Magazine asked Hawksworth for his explanation for the country’s overachieving performance.

“Jamaica’s Olympic success is a classic example of how David can sometimes beat Goliath in the Olympic arena through specialising and focusing available resources on areas of particular strength,” he responded. “For Jamaica this has been sprinting, mirroring the success through specialisation of relatively small, low income countries such as Cuba in boxing and Kenya and Ethiopia in long distance running.”

Hawksworth says once such a sporting tradition has been established, success tends to breed success as young athletes follow their heroes into those same sports.

“We can see a similar thing happening in the UK recently with cycling and rowing,” he added.

(There are continuing debates on the reasons for the Jamaican success, which has been growing since 1948, when the country won its first medals via Arthur Wint and Herb McKinley in the 400 meters at London (edited). Some contend that there is a ‘speed gene’ that makes Caribbean athletes run fast – which doesn’t take into account parents without an athletic bone. Others say it’s the yams eaten by athletes of rural origins like Bolt but that doesn’t account for the city sprinters.)

According to his analysis home advantage could once again play a part in how the Olympic medals are shared in August; but the superpowers of the US, China and Russia are again set to battle it out at the top.

It’s the fourth time PwC has published an analysis of how medal performance at the Olympic Games can be linked to such factors as past Olympic performance, economics and state support for sport. PwC’s paper updates these estimates to allow for actual results in Beijing 2008.

Some of the interesting conclusions drawn from the PwC model are:

  • Now it is no longer the host country, China may find it more difficult to stay ahead of the US (as it did in Beijing on gold medals, although not total medals won).
  • The PwC model suggests that the British team could win around 54 medals this time around, beating an already exceptionally good performance of 47 medals in Beijing due to home advantage, which has proved significant in all other recent Olympics except Atlanta in 1996.
  • Russia is projected by the model to continue to perform strongly relative to the size of its economy in third place (68 medals), but it does continue to drift down the table relative to the heights of its performance in the old USSR era.
  • The model still suggests that India is a significant underperformer relative to its population and GDP, with a model target of around 5-6 medals for London after allowing for past performance. The most plausible explanation is that, with the exception of hockey, Indian sport tends to focus on events that are not included in the Olympics, notably cricket.

At Beijing, Jamaica topped the countries with Caribbean borders based on gold medals won but Cuba gained the most medals.

Rank Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
14 Jamaica 6 3 2 11
28   Cuba (CUB) 2 11 11 24
36   Mexico (MEX) 2 0 1 3
46  Dominican Republic (DOM) 1 1 0 2
52  Panama (PAN) 1 0 0 1
59   Trinidad and Tobago (TRI) 0 2 0 2
64    Bahamas (BAH) 0 1 1 2
64    Colombia (COL) 0 1 1 2
80   Venezuela (VEN) 0 0 1 1

Following is the PwC model estimates for the London games:

Country Model estimate of medal total in London 2012 Medal total in Beijing 2008 Difference
1. US 113 110 +3
2. China 87 100 -13
3. Russia 68 73 -5
4. Great Britain 54 47 +7
5. Australia 42 46 -4
6. Germany 41 41 0
7. France 37 41 -4
8. Japan 28 25 +3
9. Italy 27 27 0
10. South Korea 27 31 -4
11. Ukraine 21 27 -6
12. Cuba 20 24 -4
13. Spain 18 18 0
14. Netherlands 16 16 0
15. Canada 15 18 -3
16. Brazil 15 15 0
17. Belarus 14 19 -5
18. Kenya 13 14 -1
19. Romania 11 8 +3
20. Hungary 11 10 +1
21. Jamaica 11 11 0
22. Poland 10 10 0
23. Turkey 10 8 +2
24. Kazakhstan 9 13 -4
25. Greece 8 4 +4
26. Norway 7 9 -2
27. Bulgaria 7 5 +2
28. New Zealand 7 9 -2
29. Denmark 7 7 0
30. Argentina 7 6 +1
Top 30 total medals 761 792 -31
Other countries 197 166 +31
Total medals 958 958 0