Remember when a whole bunch of people said a bunch of countries were gonna win a bunch of medals at the Olympics? And then a whole bunch of other countries weren’t going to win? Yeah, let’s start looking at that.
The Games have been over for a couple of weeks now, but that doesn’t mean that the results are final. Thanks to dopers, the results are never final. We’re still getting revised results from the Beijing Olympics, for crying out loud (here’s one example, published 14 days ago). It’s so bad that Olympic historian David Wallechinsky announced he’s no longer planning to put out updated versions of his Olympic history book because he’d be spending too much time updating past results. Rio’s already had one incident of medal-stripping, which means Kyrgyzstan has lost the only medal it won in Rio, a bronze in men’s weightlifting.
First off, Goldman Sachs. Goldman had predicted number of gold medals and overall total medals for the top 50. While they did say this year’s Games were difficult to model due to many of Russia’s athletes being banned, that really can’t explain the fact that they only managed to get both metrics right for a whopping two countries: Italy and Slovenia. They got four gold predictions right (that’s 8% accuracy), also correctly guessing Hungary and Denmark. For overall medal totals, they got five correct (10% accuracy), also correctly guessing Poland, Algeria and Georgia. If you look at 100 total datapoints, they got 9% correct.
Where did they go wrong? Well, they underestimated China’s fall and Great Britain’s gain. I think many of us did. China’s been a noted powerhouse, pouring tons of money into their Olympic sporting programs. However, according to the New York Times, this year’s team wasn’t quite the same. They were younger and perhaps more inexperienced, and the attitudes toward developing athletes have changed a bit.
On the other hand, Team GB is still benefiting from the the country’s massive investment in sport. While its 67 medals weren’t quite the number that UK Sport predicted (79), it did prove that competing on home turf in 2012 didn’t make them a one-hit wonder. The UK actually beat China in terms of number of gold medals and was only three behind them in the overall medal count.
Speaking of the host nation bump, Brazil got one, but it wasn’t quite to Goldman’s predictions–they got two more golds than predicted, but three fewer medals overall.
Where did they go right? The Goldman Sachs report did say that democratization of medals would be a thing–and they were right. A lot of small countries did win one or two medals…they just weren’t the ones that Goldman had thought would win.
So the big brains at Goldman weren’t quite so sharp, but Rio had some big upsets along the way too, like US women losing big in soccer and Japan women taking the badminton doubles gold. Those upsets make making predictions fun and interesting–and if that in and of itself was a sport, Goldman probably wouldn’t place very highly. At least this year.