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For Immediate Release


Contact:
Leslie Weddell
(719) 389-6038
Leslie.Weddell@ColoradoCollege.edu

ECONOMIC MODEL SHOWS HOST CANADA WINNING
MOST MEDALS AT THE 2010 OLYMPIC GAMES

Economics professor’s formula ignores athletes’ skills, yet proves remarkably accurate

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Jan. 21, 2010 – An economics professor’s model of Olympic success has shown uncanny accuracy time and again.  This time, he predicts a particularly surprising result: For the first time ever, Canada will top the podium more often than any other nation.

Daniel K.N. Johnson, associate professor of economics at Colorado College, first constructed the model with a colleague before the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia. Since then, the model has proven itself over five consecutive Olympics, averaging a correlation of 94 percent with actual medal counts, and 87 percent for gold medals specifically.

Most surprisingly, Johnson uses only non-athletic data to make his forecasts. He considers per capita income, population, climate and political structure of the nations competing, along with the obvious advantage of hosting the Games. This last factor works heavily in Canada’s favor this year, putting them one medal ahead of the United States and Norway in the model’s predictions.

As a Canadian-born economist, that result warms Johnson’s heart, but he insists that the results are pure statistics.  He’s going to the Vancouver Games, partly to cheer and partly to see how his model fares this time around.

During the 2006 Winter Games in Torino, Johnson’s model forecast that Germany would top the medal count, and it did. Germany was predicted to win 28 medals, and they in fact won 29. Johnson predicted Germany would win 10 gold medals; they won 11. He also predicted the United States would win 22 medals, eight of them gold; the U.S. won 25 medals, nine of which were gold. In fact, Johnson’s formula accurately predicted the 14 nations that would top the podium most often, with the exception of South Korea (No. 13), which was not included due to data limitations.

Johnson’s accuracy for the Summer Games has been equally startling. The model predicted 103 U.S. medals in the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, 33 of them gold.  In the end, the U.S. won 110 medals; 36 of them gold.  Before the 2004 Athens Olympics, Johnson predicted the U.S. team would win 103 medals, including 37 gold; the U.S. team won 103 with 35 gold. He said Russia would win 94 medals; it won 92. For the 2000 Sydney games, he predicted 90 medals for the U.S., with 33 gold. The Americans won 97 medals, of which 39 were gold. For Australia, the host, he predicted 54 medals. Australia won 56.

Johnson’s paper, “A Tale of Two Seasons: Participation and Medal Counts at the Summer and Winter Olympics,” was written in 1999 with Ayfer Ali, while Johnson was on sabbatical at Harvard University and Ali was a student. It was published in Social Science Quarterly in December 2004.

Johnson currently is the Gerald L. Schlessman Professor of Economics and Director of the Innovative Minds Program at Colorado College, located just a few miles from the U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters in Colorado Springs.

Johnson received his bachelor of social science degree in economics from the University of Ottawa in 1991; his master’s degree in economics from the London School of Economics in 1992; and his Ph.D. in economics from Yale University in 1998. He has been a professor at Colorado College since 2004, teaching and researching the economics of technological change.

The big story this year, from Johnson’s perspective: Canada should win three more medals than it won in Torino in 2006, due primarily to its home-field advantage. It is predicted to narrowly edge out the U.S., Norway, Austria, Sweden, Russia and Germany for the title. However, Russia is predicted to win the race for gold medals, edging out Germany and winning three more than Canada or the U.S.

Why does he do it?  Johnson says that he treats the model’s predictions as ‘benchmarks’ to help set national expectations at realistic levels. “We all subconsciously know,” he says, “that small, poor, warm nations are at a disadvantage when it comes to the Winter Games. Our model quantifies those effects, so that each nation can celebrate victory if they exceed the model’s predictions. For a small nation, winning three medals is an amazing accomplishment. For the U.S. or Germany or Russia, it’s appropriate to expect a lot more.”

This year, Johnson decided to publicly report only the predictions for nations that are expected to win 10 or more medals.  “We can all celebrate with the nations not on the list, every time that they win a medal,” he says.  The full table of predictions is included below.

 

Nation

Predictions for 2010

Actual in 2006

Total medals

Gold medals

Total medals

Gold medals

Canada

27

5

24

7

United States

26

5

25

9

Norway

26

4

19

2

Austria

25

4

23

9

Sweden

24

4

13

6

Russia*

23

8

22

8

Germany

20

7

29

11

Italy

19

3

11

5

Finland

14

4

8

0

Switzerland

13

4

14

5

China*

12

2

11

2

South Korea

11

4

11

6

Netherlands*

10

3

9

3

About Colorado College
Colorado College is a nationally prominent, four-year liberal arts and sciences college that was founded in Colorado Springs in 1874. The college operates on the innovative Block Plan, in which its 1,975 students study one course at a time in intensive 3½-week blocks. For more information, visit www.ColoradoCollege.edu

NOTE TO EDITORS: Charts and graphics showing Johnson's current and past predictions, as well as Johnson and Ali's published paper, are available at http://faculty1.coloradocollege.edu/~djohnson/Olympics.html. Johnson may be contacted directly at (719) 389-6654 or (719) 304-4410.