Team USA top the Olympic medal table. Or is it China? Or … San Marino?

As of this writing, the United States leads the medal count in the Tokyo Olympics. Or maybe it’s China. Or San Marino.

It all depends on how you choose to list the medals, and it’s surprisingly contentious. Let’s take the 2016 Olympics as an example. A British supporter would have preferred that the medals were listed in order of gold medals won – that put them in second place with 27 golds ahead of China in third 26. A fan of the Chinese would have been happier if credit was given to total medals, where their team finished with 70 – three ahead of Team GB’s 67. The media in the US tend to count total medals, whereas the rest of the world generally favors gold. Some would say it’s no coincidence that the US tends to do better in the latter method as it nearly always fields the largest number of athletes.

올해, China has jumped out to a healthy lead in the tally of gold medals, while the USA leads the way in total medals. We could always weigh gold medals more heavily than silver and bronze. Using a 5-3-1 system, Team USA lead, but not by much – 294 ...에 275. Third-place is up for grabs – the ROC have 176, Team GB have 170, and overachieving host Japan 169. But if you really want to measure depth of accomplishment, use The Sports Examiner’s system of awarding points for the first eight places, Team USA have a wide lead over China, while Team GB are sandwiched between the third-place ROC and fifth-place Japan. Australia is pretty well stuck in sixth.

All of these systems, 물론이야, support the countries with a lot of resources, both in terms of people and currency. That might make us curious to take the medal count and divide it per capita.

At the time of writing (6 팔월), San Marino held the lead with roughly 88.4 medals per 1 백만명. (That’s three medals for a population of 33,931.) Bermuda had roughly 16 medals per million; Grenada 8.9. The most efficient country with a population over 1 million was New Zealand at 3.9. Australia was 1.725, 팀 GB 0.85 and USA at just 0.3. Suddenly China, at 0.06, doesn’t look quite as impressive.

US supporters, 그러나, may question why all sports are created equal. China is really good at badminton, diving, gymnastics, shooting, table tennis and weightlifting, and their athletes will take home at least 53 medals from those six sports alone. The USA is really good at basketball, softball, women’s water polo and women’s soccer, good for five medals. 반면에, the USA will take at least 53 medals in two sports: swimming and athletics, which we call track and field.

But that doesn’t really change much. The top countries have all medaled in 20-25 스포츠, depending on how you parse the word sport – whether road and track cycling are different sports, or open-water swimming and pool swimming.

Much more difficult to figure is the roles of different countries in developing athletes. One third of San Marino’s medals – in other words, one of three – came from a University of Michigan wrestler. A lot of skateboarders live and train in the US from when they are young due to the lucrative professional circuit. Similarly, many track and field medalists from “other” countries perfected their craft in the highly competitive US college system, where some universities spend tens of millions of dollars on their athletic departments (whether that money would be better spent on academics is a whole other question).

For those of us who have been to the Olympics though – I have been fortunate enough to cover four for USA Today – the most important measure is whose country’s supporters are the most fun.

So with that, and I say this as an American, congratulations to Australia, the winners in this and every Olympics.

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