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02.25.10

Who Really Won the Olympics?

Sure the U.S. leads the medal count. But if you take away our size and money, we're somewhere below Norway. The Daily Beast ranks the countries on pure talent to show who should really be bragging.

The United States has been sweeping up at these Olympic Games, with 30-plus medals and counting as of Thursday, leading all nations. The financial investment, at $53 million according to the U.S. Olympic Committee press office, is nearly as staggering. That’s a price tag of about $1.8 million per medal.

Click Here to See Our Rankings of Countries That Earned Real Olympic Bragging Rights.

Was that a good deal? The Daily Beast decided to try to figure that out, focusing not only on total medals, but medals relative to how each country should have performed.

“There’s a mixture of two significant factors that contribute to countries like Canada and many of the northern European countries doing well in the Olympics,” says Kin Lo, associate professor at the Sauder School of Business of the University of British Columbia. “That's the first thing to note: that a matter of geography as well as economics contribute to the disparity in results.”

We measured each country's medal performance against four factors:

· Population: Five times the people means five times the potential for freakishly talented athletes.

· GDP Per Capita: Rich countries allow those athletes to indulge in sports over, say, farming. As with population, measured by the CIA World Factbook.

· Financial Resources: How much money does each country’s Olympic team receive to reach its potential? A tough number to nail down—especially because different teams within each country have different monetary sources—this was compiled with guidance from Lisa Delpy Neirotti, associate professor of tourism and sports management at George Washington University, as well as national press officials.

· Winter Resources: Measures opportunity for winter sports, including distance from the Equator, skiable mountains, seasonal snow, and general infrastructure; it was compiled with help from David Keeling, geography professor at Western Kentucky University, who has visited nearly every country competing in the Olympics.

We balanced these categories evenly, except population, which received a double weighting. We measured gold, silver, and bronze differently, of course. And while we only measured countries that won at least one medal, even the 50-plus non-winners had some interesting results. Giant Brazil has invested nearly $1 million with no alloy to show off, while its former overlord, tiny Portugal, has invested almost nothing with the same result.

America might be leading the Vancouver Games in the medal count, but in terms of achieving what we’d expect, it only gets bronze. Who’s atop this podium of efficiency? Click here.

Clark Merrefield and Tali Yahalom researched and reported this ranking.