Great Job, Slovenia! Boo, USA! Re-Ranking the Olympics Medal Table by Population and GDP.

Scenes from the Olympics.
Feb. 19 2014 12:33 PM

Way to Go, Slovenia! Not So Hot, Team USA.

Re-ranking the 2014 Winter Olympics medal table by population and GDP.

Ashley Wagner
American figure skater Ashley Wagner knows the United States should be doing better in the Olympics, considering all the people and dollars it has.

Photo by Darron Cummings/Reuters

It’s easy to feel some nationalistic pride as yet another American athlete raises her arms in triumph in Sochi. In one sense, this is perfectly reasonable. Whatever country an athlete is from, winning a medal requires an unimaginable amount of hard work and talent. Even so, considering the United States is one of the world’s richest countries and one of its most populous, the USA’s medal haul at the Winter Olympics isn’t all that impressive.

At the time of this writing, the United States, with its hundreds of millions of people and multitrillion-dollar economy, is tied for the most medals with the Netherlands, a country without a tenth of the U.S.’s population or GDP. America’s performance is actually abysmal, though, considering its financial and human resources. As the following numbers from the website Medals Per Capita illustrate, the U.S. can boast only one medal per 16 million Americans, while Norway has one per a mere 280,000 Norwegians. Among the medal-winning countries, the U.S. has one of the lowest ratios of medal count to population. Similarly, the U.S. now stands at almost $800 billion of GDP for each of its 19 medals, while tiny Slovenia has a more impressive $8 billion for each of its six. (The data in the chart will be updated once per day throughout the Olympics.)

Country Population per medal Population per gold medal GDP per medal
(in billions)
GDP per gold medal
(in billions)
Medals Gold medals Population GDP (in billions)
Russia 4,348,485 11,038,462 $56 $143 33 13 143,500,000 $1,858
Norway 192,527 455,064 $19 $44 26 11 5,005,700 $486
Canada 1,390,856 3,477,140 $69 $174 25 10 34,771,400 $1,736
United States 11,192,214 34,820,222 $539 $1,677 28 9 313,382,000 $15,094
Germany 4,306,895 10,228,875 $188 $446 19 8 81,831,000 $3,571
Netherlands 697,157 2,091,471 $35 $105 24 8 16,731,770 $836
Switzerland 715,464 1,311,683 $58 $106 11 6 7,870,100 $636
Belarus 1,576,900 1,892,280 $9 $11 6 5 9,461,400 $55
Austria 497,226 2,113,209 $25 $105 17 4 8,452,835 $418
France 4,356,667 16,337,500 $185 $693 15 4 65,350,000 $2,773
Poland 6,416,833 9,625,250 $86 $129 6 4 38,501,000 $515
China 149,705,556 449,116,667 $811 $2,433 9 3 1,347,350,000 $7,298
South Korea 6,072,500 16,193,333 $140 $372 8 3 48,580,000 $1,116
Czech Rep. 1,313,025 5,252,102 $27 $108 8 2 10,504,203 $215
Slovenia 257,193 1,028,770 $6 $25 8 2 2,057,540 $50
Sweden 632,712 4,745,342 $36 $269 15 2 9,490,683 $538
Finland 1,081,408 $53 $266 5 1 5,407,040 $266
Great Britain 15,565,500 62,262,000 $608 $2,432 4 1 62,262,000 $2,432
Japan 15,956,250 127,650,000 $733 $5,867 8 1 127,650,000 $5,867
Slovakia 5,445,324 5,445,324 $96 $96 1 1 5,445,324 $96
Ukraine 22,822,210 $83 $165 2 1 45,644,419 $165
Australia 7,626,873 $457 3 0 22,880,619 $1,372
Croatia 4,290,612 $64 1 0 4,290,612 $64
Italy 7,597,066 $274 8 0 60,776,531 $2,195
Kazakhstan 16,718,000 $186 1 0 16,718,000 $186
Latvia 517,593 $7 4 0 2,070,371 $28

Why? Maybe it’s America’s relatively warm climes, or preference for not-so-wintry sports. In some events, the U.S. hardly competes at all: In nearly a century of the Winter Olympics, Americans have won just one medal each in cross-country skiing, ski jumping, and curling. The relative success of countries like Slovenia, Latvia, and Austria shows that a country’s culture can be more important than its population or economy when it comes to securing Olympic gold.

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