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How China Will Beat the US in Olympic Medals

How to tell which countries will take home more bling, and why weight lifting matters.

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Who will take more of these bad boys home with them, China or the United States? Image: Paul Hudson

Perhaps the most-wagered question at the Olympics is total medals by country. Right now, the United States has 11, Italy has 8, and France has 4. China is already one medal ahead of the US, and experts are predicting they’ll hold onto that lead, says CNN.

In the lead up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China dedicated more than $4.5 billion to supporting sports in an effort to supplant the United States as the world’s sporting superpower.

Using data from the International Labor Organization, the World Bank, and elsewhere, CNN tried to figure out whether money really does make a difference. Not surprisingly, it does. Wealthy countries win more. But there are a few other, more surprising results as well. Turns out socialism makes for good athletics:

But political systems also have an influence on athletic success: countries with socialist systems often dedicate significant resources to the development of top athletes in order to increase their international prestige and distract from domestic political issues. And, to a certain extent, countries with a socialist past still profit from previous investments and receive a higher number of medals even today.

Also, if your country is hosting, you’re more likely to win more medals. Women from countries where women have rights do better than those where women are kept out of the workforce. Athletes from tropical places tend to do worse than those from milder climates.

So, with all this information, who comes out on top? China. Using all that data, CNN predicts the Asian superpower will score 102 medals to America’s 100. Here are the final predictions:

1. China (102 medals), 2. United States (100), 3. Russia (71), 4. UK (57), 5. Australia (43), 6. France (39), 7. Germany (36), 8. South Korea (31), 9. Cuba (29), 10. Brazil (28), 11. Ukraine (28), 12. Italy (27), 13. Japan (27), 14. Belarus (19), 15. Spain (19).

One thing the CNN post doesn’t mention is weight lifting and its potential to totally skew the medal count. Unlike most sports, weight lifting has loads of weight classes. Which, as the New Yorker pointed out in a recent profile of the strong man Brian Shaw, means that weight lifters can amass loads of medals. And China excels at weight lighting. In Beijing they took eight of the fifteen gold medals and a silver, dominating the field, and they’re hoping to repeat the performance this year. The United States, on the other hand, hasn’t had an Olympic hope in years, says The New Yorker.

Since 1960, the United States has suffered through an extended drought in the sport. Bulgarians, Hungarians, Cubans, Poles, Romanians, Koreans, an East German, and a Finn have all topped the podium, and Russians and Chinese have done so dozens of times. (Weight lifting, with its multiple weight classes, is an ideal means of amassing medals, they’ve found.) But aside from Tara Nott—a flyweight from Texas who won her division in 2000, when women’s weight lifting was introduced at the Sydney Games—no American has won the gold. This year, the men’s team didn’t even qualify for the Olympics. (One American, Kendrick Farris, later qualified individually.)

Of course, the prediction game is a risky one. No one expected American gymnast Jordyn Weiber, a favorite for all around gold, to be eliminated before the finals. Nor did they think swimmer Michael Phelps would finish fourth in the 400, or that his teammate, Ryan Lochte, the man who was supposed to carry the 4X100, would lose the lead on his anchor leg and placed the United States in second.

 

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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