What Each Olympic Medal Costs Each Country Versus GDP

August 23, 2016 by Jon C. Ogg

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.

6. Japan
> Gold medals: 12
> Total medals: 41
> GDP: $4.83 trillion
> Population: 126.9 million

Japan won a total of 41 medals. Of those, there were 12 golds, eight silvers and 21 bronzes. Japan’s 41 medals were dominated by 12 in judo and seven from each wrestling and swimming. Japan’s endless quantitative easing might make this number cheaper than it sounds — at $402.5 billion per gold medal or $118 billion for each of its 41 medals in total.

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7. France
> Gold medals: 10
> Total medals: 42
> GDP: $2.65 trillion
> Population: 66.5 million

France’s total medal count of 42 included 10 gold medals. The nation also had 18 silver and 14 bronze medals. The nation won six medals in boxing, six in track and field and five in judo, with a wide spread of other classes. France’s cost per gold medal would be $265 billion based on GDP, but its cost for each of the 42 medals in total would be $63 billion based on GDP.

8. South Korea
> Gold medals: 9
> Total medals: 21
> GDP: $1.85 trillion
> Population: 49.1 million

South Korea won 21 medals in total, with nine golds, followed by three silvers and nine bronzes. South Korea dominated in archery and taekwondo for five medals each. South Korea’s cost per gold medal would be $205 billion, but that drops to $88 billion each if count all Olympic medals versus GDP.

9. Italy
> Gold medals: 8
> Total medals: 28
> GDP: $2.17 trillion
> Population: 61.8 million

Italy’s 28 medals included eight golds, 12 silvers and eight bronzes. Italy took seven medals in shooting and four in fencing. Other multiple medals were won in judo, swimming, water polo, diving and rowing. Italy’s per medal cost on GDP would be $271 billion for eight gold medals and would be $77.5 billion for each of the 28 total medals.

10. Australia
> Gold medals: 8
> Total medals: 29
> GDP: $1.49 trillion
> Population: 22.7 million

Australia won an impressive 29 medals. Of those, there were eight gold medals, 11 silvers and 10 bronzes. Of the 29 medals in total, 10 came from swimming. Other areas with more than one medal were sailing, rowing, track and field and cycling. Australia’s cost on a GDP basis would be $186 billion per gold medal, or just $51.4 billion for each of the 29 total medals.

11. Netherlands
> Gold medals: 8
> Total medals: 19
> GDP: $832.6 billion
> Population: 16.95 million

The Netherlands had an impressive 19 total medals and eight golds for such a small country. It won seven silver and four bronze medals as well. Holland’s main winnings came from rowing, cycling, swimming and sailing. This nation’s cost per gold medal would be $104 billion, but for the total 19 medals that drops to $43.8 billion each on a medal per GDP calculation.

12. Hungary
> Gold medals: 8
> Total medals: 15
> GDP: $258.4 billion
> Population: 9.9 million

Hungary won an impressive 15 medals, with eight of them gold. It had three silver and four bronze medals. The nation can thank women’s swimming for the dominance, with seven swimming medals in total. It won three for canoeing and four in fencing. Hungary got away with a cost of a mere $32.3 billion cost per gold medal versus GDP, but that per medal cost versus GDP would drop to a mere $17.2 billion each.

13. Brazil
> Gold medals: 7
> Total medals: 19
> GDP: $3.19 trillion
> Population: 204.2 million

Brazil was the host nation, and it may be disappointed in a total of 19 medals with such a large population and with an economy that is still hoping for recovery. Brazil won seven golds and six of each silver and bronze. Its main winnings were in beach volleyball, gymnastics, canoeing and judo. Brazil already spent a lot to host the Olympics, but its cost of gold metal versus GDP would be a whopping $455 billion. Against all 19 medals won, that per medal cost would drop to $168 billion each.

14. Spain
> Gold medals: 7
> Total medals: 17
> GDP: $1.61 trillion
> Population: 48.1 million

Spain may have its national problems economically, but the nation’s 17 total tally included seven gold medals. It also won four silver medals and six bronze medals. These were spread among swimming, canoeing and track and field. Spain’s cost against GDP per medal would be $230 billion for each gold medal. That cost for each of the 17 medals won in total would be almost $95 billion.

15. Kenya
> Gold medals: 6
> Total medals: 13
> GDP: $141.6 billion
> Population: 45.9 million

Kenya did well for itself, running its way to 13 medals, all from the track and field. The nation had six golds, six silvers and one bronze. Kenya’s cost per gold medal would be $23.6 billion on the GDP calculation, but that drops to $10.9 billion for each of the 13 medals versus GDP.

16. Jamaica
> Gold medals: 6
> Total medals: 11
> GDP: $24.65 billion
> Population: 2.95 million

Jamaica can say that it Bolted its way to 11 medals. The nation had six gold medals, followed by three silver medals and two bronze medals as well. All of Jamaica’s medals were in track and field. Jamaica has a mere cost of $4.1 billion for each gold medal versus GDP. Its cost on GDP for each of the 11 total medals won would be a mere $2.24 billion.

17. Croatia
> Gold medals: 5
> Total medals: 10
> GDP: $91.1 billion
> Population: 4.46 million

Croatia’s small population turned in an impressive 10 total medals in 2016, with five of those being gold. It won three silver medals and two bronze. Croatia won three medals in track and field, two each in sailing and rowing and one each in shooting, water polo and boxing. If you use the cost per medal versus GDP, Croatia’s gold medal cost would be $18.2 billion and the cost for each of the 10 medals in total would be $9.1 billion.

18. Cuba
> Gold medals: 5
> Total medals: 11
> GDP: $128.5 billion (old)
> Population: 11 million

Cuba slowly has been getting relations normalized with the United States, and the island nation won 11 medals in total. That included five golds, two silvers and four bronzes. Cuba’s 11 medals were dominated by six in boxing, followed by three in wrestling and one each in judo and track and field. Cuba’s economic estimates are from 2014, but they may be guesses. If you trust Cuba’s GDP numbers, their cost would be $25.7 billion per gold medal versus GDP. The cost for each of the 11 medals in total would be $11.7 billion versus GDP.

19. New Zealand
> Gold medals: 4
> Total medals: 18
> GDP: $172.2 billion
> Population: 4.44 million

New Zealand’s total of 18 medals was broken down by four golds, nine silvers and five bronzes. It won four in sailing and four in track and field, with three in rowing and two in canoeing. That is great for a mere 4.4 million people. New Zealand’s cost per gold medal versus GDP would be $43 billion, and its cost for each of the 18 medals won versus GDP would be about $9.6 billion.

20. Canada
> Gold medals: 4
> Total medals: 22
> GDP: $1.632 trillion
> Population: 35.1 million

Canada won 22 medals in total, but only four were golds. Our friends to the north won three silver medals and 15 bronze medals. Canada’s total of 22 medals was dominated by six each in swimming and track and field. It won two medals in diving, and other categories were one each. Canada’s cost per gold medal versus GDP would be $408 billion, but if you add in the silvers and bronzes, its total of 22 medals would have a cost of $74 billion against GDP.