Winter Olympics: Statistics point to USA and Germany in medal tables

The resurgence of Bode Miller will help Team USA in the medal tables
The resurgence of Bode Miller will help Team USA in the medal tables

Trawling through the successful (and not so successful) work of economists who have tried to forecast medal hauls at the Olympics, Jack Houghton thinks he's found an approach that is better than what's gone before, which is good news for the USA and Germany, and bad news for Norway and Team GB.

"Despite the irrepressibly positive predictions of Graham Bell and Ed Leigh on Ski Sunday every week, which seem to be based mainly around the recent World Cup successes of our skeleton team and the introduction at these games of freeskiing slopestyle, it is most likely that Team GB will come away from Sochi with no golds, a 2.206/5 chance."

Since the 2000 Games in Athens, every time the Olympics has come around - Winter or Summer - a lot of coverage has been given to various forecasting models that have attempted to predict the medal hauls of competing nations, and done so, the reporting has said, with remarkable levels of accuracy.

As a punter - and one who is partial to the odd complicated spreadsheet and even odder academic paper - it makes sense to see if this much-heralded work of others can point us in the direction of profit.

Most prominently featured over the years has been the economist Daniel Johnson, who first published his research into the political, economic and geographic determinants of Olympic success in 2002, demonstrating, perhaps unsurprisingly, that climate was a major factor in deciding which countries would be most successful in the Winter Olympics, but more usefully quantifying the effect of home advantage. Based on these factors, Johnson's predictions, he claims, have been 94% accurate in predicting total medals won by any country, and 87% accurate in forecasting gold medal hauls.

Using a similar methodology to Johnson, Dartmouth professor Andrew Bernard has been reported to be 96% accurate in his predictions for previous Olympics, being especially prescient when it comes to forecasting gold medal numbers. And not to be outdone, accountancy firm PWC have frequently got in on the act, claiming similar success levels to Bernard.

Finding profit on the back of the work of these academics should be easy then... Or maybe not. There are a couple of problems.

First, and most practically, none of the forecasters mentioned above seem to have published a Sochi report. Bernard is on record as having retired from the arena, and perhaps Johnson and PWC don't see the media interest in the Sochi games.

Second, and most importantly, the work of all three forecasters has been debunked by the American Statistical Association - as well as lots of people who inhabit online statistical forums (yes, these places exist, and no, I never visit them, except perhaps occasionally) - who claim their predictions to be statistically insignificant.

All is not lost, though, because two young bucks, or a buck and a doe to be precise, by the names of Madeleine and Wladimir Andreff, have overhauled the models of other academics, made them more Winter-Olympics specific, tested them successfully on previous Olympics, and come up with their own, hoped to be super-accurate, predictions for Sochi. The paper is fascinating - not least for its long discussion about the differences between climatic conditions and the presence of resorts catering to winter sports in any competing nation - but is of most interest in terms of the predictions they make for total medal hauls:

USA - 36
Germany - 28
Canada - 27
Russia - 24
Norway - 24
Austria - 15

From a punter's point-of-view, then, this all suggests a back of the USA at 2.68/5 to win the most medals, and a lay of Norway at 2.962/1, who may be knocked back from their fourth-placed berth of 2010 by Russia, who will be enjoying the significance of home advantage.

Unfortunately, the Andreffs do not make specific predictions with regards to gold medals, but Germany, at 8.27/1, look to be the best value. They converted a third of their total medals into golds in Vancouver, and were only beaten by Canada, who were enjoying home advantage. With a strong team across different disciplines, particularly on the women's side, they could comfortably win upwards of 12 gold medals, which is likely to be enough to top the table.

As for Great Britain, despite the irrepressibly positive predictions of Graham Bell and Ed Leigh on Ski Sunday every week, which seem to be based mainly around the recent World Cup successes of our skeleton team and the introduction at these games of freeskiing slopestyle (I have no idea either, but apparently we're good at it), it is most likely that Team GB will come away from Sochi with no golds, which is currently a 2.206/5 chance.


Recommended Bets
Back USA at 2.68/5 to win most medals.
Lay Norway at 2.962/1 to win most medals.
Back Germany at 8.27/1 to win most gold medals.
Back "No" at 2.206/5 in the Team GB Gold Market.

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