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Norway Wins the Olympics

With the Winter Olympics now behind us, countries are seeking to evaluate how they fared. In the US, there is plenty of self accolades for the record haul of 37 medals. In Russia, the poor performance of the Federation has led to the resignation of the head of the national team and remarkably brusque comments from Medvedev. And while Canada did not win the overall medal count, gold medals in hockey and curling leave our northern neighbors with plenty to be happy about.

But the real winner of the Olympics is Norway. On a per capita basis, no other country earned as many medals as this small Nordic country. And it is not just Norway. Nine of the top ten per capita medal winners are European countries with populations smaller than 10 million inhabitants. The following chart shows the top 26 medal winners ranked on a per capita basis. (HT: Mark Warren)

What explains the dominance of European countries in the Olympics? History, climate, and geography certainly play a role. David Brooks suggests it also has to do with social capital and natural toughness. I personally wonder if sports are an emphasized expression of national sovereignty in Europe because other forms of national identity, such as currency and foreign policy, are increasingly transnational in scope. Some dedicated federalists in the European Union are pushing for an EU Olympic team, at least according to this web page. But I suspect the likelihood of that ever happening is close to zero.


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Pat Patterson on :

Or it could just be that many of these countries have lots of snow and national sports authorities that actually help the athletes. But congrats to the Norwegians because it's the best athlete that wins not the best country.

Marie Claude on :

congrats to the Canadian Hockey Girls team

Pamela on :

That IS a fascinating chart, thanks! I have heard some people speculate that the reason Russia did relatively poorly compared to previous performances is that now it just has the population of Russia to draw from and not the former USSR. Which might make some sense were it not for the fact that the place came apart - when? 1989? And big kudos to the men's Canadian hockey team. That was probably the best hockey I've ever seen. I hated that we lost but DAMN -what perfection for the their team and for Canada.

Marie Claude on :

for Russia, might be cuz of the "performant" drugs controls

Joe Noory on :

Gee - Norways bags medeals in their national pass-time! Who could have guessed?... Can we do this again at the next summer games when Basketball is in contention? Or do these "cultural nobility" theories and "crypto-superman" arguments only ever apply to Europeans?

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