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A country's better economy doesn't always translate into more Olympic medals

Researchers at the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Future spend hours examining the factors that play into Olympic results.

DENVER — Researchers in Denver told 9NEWS talented athletes are just one of the reasons why certain countries lead in the Olympic medal count every four years. 

Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures researchers inside the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver spend hours researching the factors that play into Olympic results. 

"Our primary purpose is to look at long term futures, craft different scenarios and say, 'What if? If this happens, what can change?' Specifically related to things like Olympic medal counts which you wouldn’t maybe expect to be our focus," researcher Collin Meisel said. 

"The Olympics are one element of soft power and one way for a country to boost its image and its attractive power in the international system."

Meisel told 9NEWS there are three factors that go into high medal counts:

  • Population
  • Size of the economy 
  • Government interest

"Larger populations you should expect a country to do better, but training for the Olympics is not cheap and so you need sort of a level of wealth in order for people to invest money, whether its individuals or organizations or governments," Meisel explained.

"So GDP per capita or the size of the economy per person on average, as that increases, you’re going to expect medal counts to increase. Population and GDP capital alone you can explain about 50% of the variation in who’s going to win what medal."

Government interest explains why certain large countries still don't produce high medal counts. 

"To contrast a country like China against maybe a country that underperforms during the Olympics based on wealth and population size is India. Why? There is probably less national interest and interest in the government in investing heavily in India’s performance and its national image."

Meisel does stress the outcome is not so black and white.  Athletes are incredible beings often capable of defying the odds. 

"There will be individuals that over perform, there will be events where you will see individuals from countries where you wouldn't expect to do well," he said. "They will do well because of that drive." 

Meisel said the big medal count leaders this year are the United States, China and the Russian Olympic Committee. 

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