What Each Olympic Medal Costs Each Country Versus GDP

The 2016 Olympics in Rio have come to an end. The big haul of gold and total medals was won by the United States, but Great Britain, China, Russia and Germany all had impressive medal tallies as well.

While one cannot say that a nation’s entire effort is geared toward winning Olympic medals, one interesting view for the larger economic snapshot is seeing how much each gold medal and then all medals would cost based on each nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). This calculation would imply that each medal won in the Olympics would cost billions of dollars. In some cases, that is hundreds of billions of dollars.

24/7 Wall St. tracked the top 20 nations by gold medals won in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. We also viewed the total number of medals won by each of those 20 nations. Data on the medals counts were from Google’s own tracking. The CIA World Factbook was used for GDP calculations on a purchasing power parity calculation (2015 in most cases) and for each nation’s total population.

These figures do not take into account the actual dollars spent on the Olympic teams themselves.

Using those figures led to a cost per gold medal and a cost for all medals won. The reality is that these numbers would favor the smaller nations that win just a few medals here and there, but this gives an indication of what each powerful nation’s cost looks like versus each nation’s output.

It turns out that the United States and China had extremely expensive medals. Nations like Jamaica, Croatia, Hungary and others spend far less per medal won than other nations using the GDP calculation. Here are the tallies for each of the top 20 nations on a per medal basis versus GDP.

1. United States
> Gold medals: 46
> Total medals: 121
> GDP: $17.95 trillion
> Population: 321.3 million

The United States took the pole position for all medals won, and also for all gold medals won. The total of 121 medals was broken down as 46 gold, followed by 37 silver and 38 bronze medals. This total count was broken down as 33 medals in swimming, 32 in track and field and 12 in gymnastics — with wins in almost every other group. The U.S. also won medals in more gold medal categories than it did not. If you counted a nation’s total GDP, the U.S. cost per gold medal was $390 billion, or a mere $148 billion for each of its 121 total medals after you add in the bronze and silver wins.

2. Great Britain
> Gold medals: 27
> Total medals: 67
> GDP (UK): $2.68 trillion
> Population (UK): 64.1 million

Great Britain’s total 67 medals were dominated golds at 27, versus 23 silvers and 17 bronzes. Their impressive 67 medals was dominated by 11 in cycling-track, seven in track and field, six in gymnastics, six in swimming and five in rowing. Great Britain is referred to as the United Kingdom by the CIA World Factbook, but its cost based on GDP was $99.25 billion per gold medal, or $40 billion for each of the 67 medals.

3. China
> Gold medals: 26
> Total medals: 70
> GDP: $19.4 trillion
> Population: 1.367 billion

China’s 70 medals were 26 gold, followed by 18 silver and 26 bronze. For the largest nation in the world and the GDP at or better than the United States, China probably feels a bit disappointed. China leads the world in GDP and in population, and its ambitions for growth and recognition may not even matter on a cost basis. Its cost on GDP would be an astonishing $746 billion per gold medal, or $277 billion for each of its 70 total medals.

4. Russia
> Gold medals: 19
> Total medals: 56
> GDP: $3.72 trillion
> Population: 142.4 million

Russia’s total of 56 medals was spread almost equally among the three medals: 19 gold, 18 silver and 19 bronze. With all the scandals, this might actually be a big win, considering the cloud over the Russian Olympics team. Russia’s cost per gold medal would be almost $196 billion, but its cost per 56 of the total medals would be $66.4 billion each.

5. Germany
> Gold medals: 17
> Total medals: 42
> GDP: $3.84 trillion
> Population: 80.8 million

Germany’s count of 42 total medals was broken down by 17 gold, 10 silver and 15 bronze. The Germans’ 42 medals were dominated by canoeing (seven), equestrian (six), shooting (four) and three in each rowing and track and field. Germany’s cost per gold medal versus GDP would be $226 billion, but a cost per total 70 medals would be $91.4 billion each.