2016 Summer Olympics – Performance Benefits for Hosts

I commenced research on this topic to support the thesis (and I use that term loosely) that the performance of host nations actually improves in the Olympic Games subsequent to the games a country hosts but (drum roll) the research didn’t support that theory. I’d heard that theory on TV and just assumed it was true. It is true that TV is only slightly more reliable than Wikipedia.

Boxing - Rio 2016 Olympic Games - Photo by Boxing AIBA - CC-BY-ND 2.0

Boxing – Rio 2016 Olympic Games – Photo by Boxing AIBACC-BY-ND 2.0

What did it support then?

As the following tables show, the performance advantages for a host of the Olympic Games are real. I know that’s not rocket science. There is definitely a home town advantage. With the notable exception of the U.S.A in 1996, hosting the Olympic Games has yielded the best ever result for each nation.

There is (usually) a spike in good performance leading up to the hosted games and there is a definite trend of maintaining that superior performance from hosting the games in the very next Olympics (except for Greece). Let’s start with Australia (because I live in Australia) hosts of the 2000 Sydney Olympics:

Australia

1992 Barcelona – 7 Gold, 9 Silver and 11 Bronze for a total of 27 medals and 10th place

1996 Atlanta – 9 Gold, 9 Silver and 23 Bronze for a total of 41 medals and 7th place

2000 Sydney – 16 Gold, 25 Silver and 17 Bronze for a total of 58 medals and 4th place

2004 Athens – 17 Gold, 16 Silver and 16 Bronze for a total of 49 medals and 4th place

2008 Beijing – 14 Gold, 15 Silver and 17 Bronze for a total of 46 medals and 6th place

2012 London – 7 Gold, 16 Silver and 12 Bronze for a total of 35 medals and 10th place

2016 Rio – 8 Gold, 11 Silver and 10 Bronze for a total of 29 medals and 10th place

Greece

1992 Barcelona – 2 Gold, 0 Silver and 0 Bronze for a total of 2 medals and 26th place

1996 Atlanta – 4 Gold, 4 Silver and 0 Bronze for a total of 8 medals and 16th place

2000 Sydney – 4 Gold, 6 Silver and 3 Bronze for a total of 13 medals and 17th place

2004 Athens – 6 Gold, 6 Silver and 4 Bronze for a total of 16 medals and 15th place

2008 Beijing – 0 Gold, 2 Silver and 2 Bronze for a total of 4 medals and 58th place

2012 London – 0 Gold, 0 Silver and 2 Bronze for a total of 2 medals and 75th place

2016 Rio – 3 Gold, 1 Silver and 2 Bronze for a total of 6 medals and 26th place

China

1992 Barcelona – 16 Gold, 22 Silver and 16 Bronze for a total of 54 medals and 4th place

1996 Atlanta – 16 Gold, 22 Silver and 12 Bronze for a total of 50 medals and 4th place

2000 Sydney – 28 Gold, 16 Silver and 15 Bronze for a total of 59 medals and 3rd place

2004 Athens – 32 Gold, 17 Silver and 14 Bronze for a total of 63 medals and 2nd place

2008 Beijing – 51 Gold, 21 Silver and 28 Bronze for a total of 100 medals and 1st place

2012 London – 38 Gold, 27 Silver and 23 Bronze for a total of 88 medals and 2nd place

2016 Rio – 26 Gold, 18 Silver and 26 Bronze for a total of 70 medals and 3rd place

Great Britain

1992 Barcelona – 5 Gold, 3 Silver and 12 Bronze for a total of 20 medals and 13th place

1996 Atlanta – 1 Gold, 8 Silver and 7 Bronze for a total of 16 medals and 36th place

2000 Sydney – 11 Gold, 10 Silver and 7 Bronze for a total of 28 medals and 10th place

2004 Athens – 9 Gold, 9 Silver and 12 Bronze for a total of 30 medals and 10th place

2008 Beijing – 19 Gold, 13 Silver and 15 Bronze for a total of 47 medals and 4th place

2012 London – 29 Gold, 17 Silver and 19 Bronze for a total of 65 medals and 3rd place

2016 Rio – 27 Gold, 23 Silver and 17 Bronze for a total of 67 medals and 2nd place

Brazil

1992 Barcelona – 2 Gold, 1 Silver and 0 Bronze for a total of 3 medals and 25th place

1996 Atlanta – 3 Gold, 3 Silver and 9 Bronze for a total of 15 medals and 25th place

2000 Sydney – 0 Gold, 6 Silver and 6 Bronze for a total of 12 medals and 52th place

2004 Athens – 4 Gold, 3 Silver and 3 Bronze for a total of 10 medals and 18th place

2008 Beijing – 3 Gold, 4 Silver and 8 Bronze for a total of 15 medals and 23rd place

2012 London – 3 Gold, 5 Silver and 9 Bronze for a total of 17 medals and 22nd place

2016 Rio – 7 Gold, 6 Silver and 6 Bronze for a total of 19 medals and 13th place

So why do hosts perform better?

There are many theories (most of them summarised in this excellent article by Stephen Pettigrew) including reduced transportation costs, familiarity with climatic conditions, minimised cost of attendance, tailored facilities, the crowd effects on judging and increased motivation by the athletes themselves.

My favourite theories are as follows though:

More athletes – Host nations are entitled to field many more athletes than is normally the case. The host nation receives automatic qualification for many events including all team events. FiveThirtyEight has a great analysis on the effect this has. Needless to say, the effect is material.

More investment – Once a nation decides to bid for the games and even more so once they are awarded the games, almost universally there is a marked increase in investment in the country’s athletes, sports and facilities to improve performance. Obviously pride is at stake. This theory also is supported by the spike in performance leading up to the games and sustained excellent performance in the subsequent Olympics. It makes sense doesn’t it. Countries do better because they provide greater funds to identify talent, train that talent and then fund that talent to compete in higher level competition. Once again, it isn’t rocket science. As I mentioned last week, the medals per capita site indicates that Olympic success is more correlative of GDP and population than it is for anything less tangible. That isn’t a very romantic view of things but it generally follows most other truisms in life.

Stay Tuned

Next exciting episode will be on Thursday, 8 September 2016 titled ‘2016 NRL Final Trimester Report Part 1 – The Young and the Restless’.

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