Countries winning medals in just a single sport

The best performing countries, such as the US, the major European nations and, in recent decades, China, earn medals in a large variety of sports. Other countries, however are very dependent on a single sport to earn their medals.

Hanni Wenzel is the most successful Olympic athlete from Liechtenstein.

In all, 41 nations have only won medals in a single sport. In 27 of these cases, this is not a very interesting finding, as these are countries which have only ever won a single Olympic medal. Looking at the remaining 14 nations with at least two medals, Ethiopia clearly stands out. The nation’s long distance runners have racked up a total of 45 Olympic medals. Apart from the track, Ethiopia’s best Olympic result is a quarter-final spot (=5th place) for boxer Chanyalew Haile in 1972. Second in line, with 9 medals, is Liechtenstein, which has won all of its medals in alpine skiing. The tiny Alpine nation is also the only country to have only medaled in the Winter Olympics.

Frankie Fredericks has won all four of Namibia’s Olympic medals.

The rest of the nations in the list have largely depended on a single athlete to win their medals. For example, Namibian sprinter Frankie Fredericks won four silver medals in the 1990s.

Country Sport Medals
Ethiopia Athletics 45
Liechtenstein Alpine Skiing 9
Costa Rica Swimming 4
Namibia Athletics 4
Independent Olympic Athletes Shooting 3
Panama Athletics 3
Afghanistan Taekwondo 2
Ecuador Athletics 2
Kuwait Shooting 2
Mozambique Athletics 2
Sri Lanka Athletics 2
Suriname Swimming 2
Tanzania Athletics 2
West Indies Federation Athletics 2

If we expand our view slightly, we could look at the percentage of medals won by a nation in a single sport. Ignoring the 41 nations already mentioned, we get two more track and field giants at the top. Sprint island Jamaica has only ever won a single medal outside athletics, by David Weller in track cycling. Kenya, a long distance running nation like Ethiopia, has won seven medals in boxing.

One of Kenya’s first long distance stars was Kipchoge Keino.

The only nations that have won more than 100 medals which owe more than a third of their medals to a single sport are Australia, which has earned 37.6% of their medals in the swimming pool, and Austria, which collected 114 medals (35.2%) in alpine skiing.

Country Sport Medals Total medals  %
Jamaica Athletics 66 67 98.5%
Kenya Athletics 79 86 91.9%
Zimbabwe Swimming 7 8 87.5%
Morocco Athletics 19 22 86.4%
Bahamas Athletics 10 12 83.3%
Malaysia Badminton 5 6 83.3%
Pakistan Hockey 8 10 80.0%
Trinidad & Tobago Athletics 14 18 77.8%
Ghana Boxing 3 4 75.0%
Lebanon Wrestling 3 4 75.0%
Peru Shooting 3 4 75.0%
Puerto Rico Boxing 6 8 75.0%
Singapore Table Tennis 3 4 75.0%

All but one of Zimbabwe’s medals have been won by swimmer Kirsty Coventry.

2 thoughts on “Countries winning medals in just a single sport”

  1. which are the most successful countries by wins versus events participated in? i.e. winning percentage by opportunities?

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