Rio Statistical Reflections

So it is now 4 months post-Rio and time perhaps to reflect, as we usually do, in a statistical manner. This is also much later than we / I get this done, but there have been some personal reasons involved in this delay, including moving homes, hurricanes, and surgery.

We now know that there were 11,190 competitors who started officially in Rio. That is up significantly over the last few years, especially given the dictum during Jacque Rogge’s presidency to limit the Olympic Games to 10,000 competitors. Here are the stats since Seoul in 1988:










2016,Rio de Janeiro,6151,5039,11190


So depite efforts to fight gigantism at the Olympics, the numbers keep going up, which again increases costs for host cities. The cost of hosting an Olympics has been shown to correlate fairly well with the number of competitors and the number of sports.

But what’s good above is the number of women competing. It was the first Olympics with more than 5,000 women starting, while men first crossed that “barrier” in 1972 at München (actually with over 6,000). Let’s look at how the percentages of women have increased over the years. Again, we’ll start with Seoul, with begins the post-boycott era – there were some form of boycotts at every Olympics from 1972-84 (and a minor one in 1988 with 6 nations not competing, including The Seychelles).










2016,Rio de Janeiro,55.0%,45.0%


That is at least getting closer to gender equality, especially compared to Seoul, where ¾ of the athletes were men.

In terms of sports and events, this was also the largest Olympics ever. Here are the number of events available for men, women, and mixed events since Seoul:












The number of events continues to increase although it was supposed to be capped at 280 per the IOC 2000 Commission that made 50 recommendations after the Olympic Bribery Scandal of 1998-99.

You can see that women are getting close to equality in terms of events available to them. (Of note, the percentages come to >100% because both men and women are eligible to compete in mixed events and sports.) The biggest differences lie in shooting (9 events for men to 6 for women), boxing (10 to 3), canoeing (11 to 5), and wrestling (12 to 6).

Shooting has already pledged to equalize the events at the next Olympics with 5 for men, 5 for women, and 5 mixed team events. Wrestling is a major difference because of Greco-Roman events for men only, and there has been some push to eliminate that discipline from the Olympics. Women still have far fewer boxing events, but that may be a positive as it gives them less chance to be inflicted with traumatic brain injuries and is probably better for them. (Disclaimer: my MD bias there)

In terms of sports, here are the numbers by gender since 1988, showing the ratio of men only sports to women only sports in the last column:


Year,Men,Women,Mixed,Total,Ratio M/W










Women have more sports than men because only they can compete in synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics at the Olympics. The number of sports dropped in 2012 to 32 when baseball and softball went off the program, and rose again to 34 when golf and rugby sevens were added to the program.

For Tokyo in 2020, five “new” sports will be contested, with baseball / softball returning to the program, and karate, surfing, skateboarding, and sport climbing being added. So the number of sports and number of events will definitely go up again, as will certainly the number of athletes competing, all of which will lead to increased costs, which is not a good thing.

Please note that our definition of “sports” is slightly different here than the IOC. The IOC recognizes sports and disciplines, a discipline being a sub-section of a sport. Thus it recognizes the sport of aquatics, which has the disciplines of swimming, diving, water polo, and synchronized swimming. We term them all sports for the purpose of this calculation. And most of the world considers those four separate sports. This is also true in a few other sports, notably cycling, equestrian, and volleyball.

So how did the medal counts come out? Here there is a disclaimer – I am a Merkan, and am biased. However, no matter how you slice it, the Rio 2016 Olympics were a dominant performance by @TeamUSA.

The USA men won the most gold medals, the most silver medals, the most bronze medals, and thus, the most medals, with 55. The USA women did the same thing, leading in every possible category of medals, with 27 golds and 61 medals. In those 8 categories, the USA was tied only for most men’s gold medals, with both the USA and Great Britain men winning 18 gold medals.

Is that good, you might ask, or is it something that happens often? It’s very rare now, and has not happened in over 50 years. The USA did it four times – in 1924, 1928, 1932, and 1948, while the Soviet Union did it in 1956 and 1960, and that was the last time it occurred. In 1948, the USA also led the mixed medal table in all 4 categories, the only time a nation has led in all 12 possible medal categories. It did not do that in 2016, equaling Germany with 2 silver and 2 bronze medals in mixed events, but trailing France, Germany, and Great Britain, who won 2 gold medals, while the USA had only 1 in mixed events. With far fewer events, the noise to signal ratio in the mixed event stat is much higher.

In the two sports usually considered the premier sports on the program – athletics (track & field) and swimming – the USA was similarly dominant. Again, the USA men and women led in all four medal categories in both sports, with the only tie coming in women’s swimming bronze medals, where both Canada and the USA had 4.

Is that good, you again may ask, or is that common? It’s less than very rare. That has never before been done at the Olympics, since women began to compete in both sports. This also includes the boycotted Olympics of 1980 and 1984, when it did not happen either time by the host nations.

So it was a great Olympics for the USA, but how about other nations? Certainly Great Britain comes quickly to mind, with 27 gold and 67 medals. Here is the final medal table (and here we are not yet re-distributing medals for the 2 known PED DQs [to date], as the IOC has not yet announced that):



United States,46,37,38,121

Great Britain,27,23,17,67







The above listing is by the international method of listing by gold medals won first, then silver, then bronze. By the North American methods of total medals first, then gold, then silver, China would be 2nd above.

So when was the last time Great Britain was 2nd or higher on the medal list? That would be 1908 – as in 108 years ago, when the Games were also in London. Britain was 3rd in London in 2012 and 4th in Beijing in 2008. Prior to that time, since 1924, Britain had only been in the top 10 nations 4 times.

What about China, which was 3rd on the list above, or 2nd by the North American system? Rio was seen as a down Games for China. A few Olympics back, there were predictions that China would soon surpass the United States at the top of medal standings, and they look poised to do that when they were 1st in international medal standings in 2008, although they were 2nd that year in North American rankings.

However, this neglects the “Host Nation Bounce Effect,” which I discussed in a post on OlympStats shortly after Sochi (see By analyzing all the Games since World War II, the host nation always wins more medals at the Olympics they host, and there is usually a predictable drop-off at the next 2 Olympics, when they fall back to a steady state. At the Summer Olympics after hosting, the previous nation usually wins about 65-75% of medals and gold medals, and at the Games after that, those numbers drop down to about 48-58%. So the Chinese fall off may have been predictable due to the loss of the bounce effect from Beijing 2008, and in fact, they did not see as big a drop-off as do most host nations.

What about Russia, which is usually near the top of the medal standings? Not so close in Rio, although there is a pretty good reason for that. The less said, the better.

So those are the Rio numbers and analysis. More sports, more events, and more competitors, which the IOC has been trying to avoid, and its only going to get worse in Tokyo. There was near gender equality for women in terms of sports, events, and athletes. A dominant performance by @TeamUSA, and Great Britain also performed admirably. The Chinese team’s performance was less than expected, but perhaps should have been predicted on closer analysis.

Only 15 months until PyeongChang.


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