Tyler Cowen and Kevin Grier evaluate the economics of Olympic success and how to boost a country's medal count - Grantland
Eric Barker stashed this in Diabolical Plans For World Domination
If it were just about population, China would win four times as many medals as the U.S.
So per-capita income matters a lot: "In the 2008 Beijing games, 65 percent of the gold medals were won by athletes from only 10 of the 200 countries that competed."
There are several ways to beat the system and outperform your fundamentals:
1. The first way is for national governments to make a priority of the Olympics and funnel extra resources into recruiting and training athletes.
2. A country can also win more medals by strategically focusing on events in which it is relatively easy to win medals. These tend to be events that are individual in nature and for which a lot of medals are handed out per event. Think boxing, or the martial arts, where a full set of medals is given in each weight class (taekwondo gives out four medals per weight class).
3. A country can increase medal counts by strategically importing citizens.
So why does China do well why India does poorly?
Even the significant segment of the Indian population that grows up healthy is at a disadvantage relative to China. The Chinese economic development model has focused on investment in infrastructure; things like massive airports, high-speed rail, hundreds of dams, and, yes, stadiums, world-class swimming pools, and high-tech athletic equipment. And while India is a boisterous democracy, China continues to be ruled by a Communist party, which still remembers the old Cold War days when athletic performance was a strong symbol of a country's geopolitical clout.
Japan's problem is a rapidly aging population.
Jamaica and Kenya succeeded in 2008 by focusing on their comparative advantages:
All 11 Jamaican medals were in footraces of 400 meters or less or in sprint relays. Similarly, all 14 Kenyan medals were in footraces of 800 meters or more.
Tyler and Kevin predict that Brazil and African countries will get increasingly better at winning medals, while Japan, China, and the European countries like Italy will get increasing worse.