The Best Summer Olympic Games Country per capita

Language:    Published: 2019-10-03   Modified: 2020-12-18   Views: 992   Type: Research
Table of contents


This is a study how the number of summer olympic medals per capita has progressed during 1896–2016.

Article history

  • 2019-10-03 Article is published.
  • 2019-09-22 Writing the article started.
  • 2019-08-03 Idea was born.


Have you noticed the depression and stagnation in western world? I suggest that we are lost with the cultural battle of the civilisations of our time. China and many other developing countries are progressing rapidly and they are not doing it how we wanted it to be in the west. The old powers are weakening: USA is strongly polarized and Europe is without vision.

The legacy of western world is grandiose but our generation is ignoring it because, well mostly because of the 24/7 spa of modern entertainment, but also because we have been taught to be ashamed of our past. But the mistakes were (and are) analyzed. We shouldn't be overly critical either because it can paralyze and depress which is exactly what is happening now. Collectively we are mostly only ashamed of our culture although it has produced so much good to this world. Many other nations and people have made mistakes as well but not everybody is analyzing them openly.

Finland is a good example of the potential prosperity that can be achieved when peace and hard work are present. Unfortunately working hard hasn't been very popular anymore but it can change. Finland turned 100 years in 2017 and more people have started to look at where we are coming from and who we are. And as it turns out, Finland is, or at least was, one of the least failed countries in the world (source).

While reading the list of Finnish achievements as a country, one of them made me smile big time: Finland has the most summer olympic medals per capita (source). The achievement is a great example of what a small but strong nation can reach. Therefore I wanted to research it a bit more and find answers to questions like: has Finland always been number one and who are the rivals? And what's the current situation and can Finland keep the lead?

Sports and athletics are not very popular in present day Finland so eventually we will lose the lead unless something happens. Luckily the competition of the olympic medals spans over decades, even centuries, so there is plenty of time to stand up (example).

All the articles that are telling Finland being the best in summer olympic medals per capita always seems to be based on today's populations. But shouldn't we make the calculations based on the population of the time when the medals were actually won? Yes, we should. Let's do a more accurate analysis because it's not just more fair but also because it's interesting to look at the progress during the period which is roughly the same as Finland's existence as a nation.


First we need input data. The medals and population data is obvious but there are also some political issues because the borders of countries have been moved. For example, does modern day Finland own the medals won by Finnish people before 1917 when the country declared independence or does modern day Russia own the medals won by Estonians during the existence of Soviet Union?

The sources used in this study:

  • Number of medals per country: Wikipedia (English)
  • Political line of which countries own which medals: Appendix A
  • Population of each country in olympic years:
  • World population in olympic years:


After having input data we need a method to find information out of it. Our steps are:

  1. Create a spreadsheet. (Note A)
  2. Fill in input data.
  3. Choose an algorithm to weight the number of medals by relative population. (Note B)
  4. Do the math.
  5. Plot the values.

Note A: The spreadsheet used in this article:

Note B: The chosen algorithm as an example: United States got 20 medals in 1896 Olympic games and their population was 4.49 % of the world population in that year (72 million / 1,600 million) which gives them 20 / 0.0449 = 445 medal points. So, the more medals and the less people, the better.


The most summer olympic medals per capita (1896-2016):

#     Country            Medal points
1.    Bahamas                 295 284
2.    Finland                 196 963
3.    Hungary                 193 686
4.    Sweden                  192 534
5.    Jamaica                 184 158
6.    New Zealand             175 443
7.    Australia               157 278
8.    Denmark                 154 242
9.    Norway                  139 902
10.   Grenada                 134 172

Data updated: 2019-09-22


So, Finland is not leading the competition when the comparison is done in more accurate manner. Bahamas is the first one–overwhelmingly. A few questions arise.

First, how is this possible? Finland isn't the number one? Yep, it's true and it's because the population of Finland has not increased as much as the rest of the world since 1896. So if we use only the population numbers of today, it benefits Finland because the nation is nowadays much smaller compared to the world population than it was when Finland won most of the medals.

Second, what is this Bahamas and how they are so good? In total Bahamas have won 14 medals in nine olympic games while their population has been 270,000 in average in the olympic years. Finland has won 303 medals in 25 olympic games while the average population has been 4,410,000. Bahamas is a small archipelagic country in the Caribbean and they are pretty good in short distance running.

Bahamas and Finland are very different sized countries but to be honest, countries like India and China are even more different. And for example, if Tuvalu got one medal, their points would be about 750,000 which is even more than double to Bahamas. And one medal by Vatican city would mean 9,330,000 points.

So, maybe we should have divisions for small, medium and large size countries? Perhaps it's more reasonable to compare countries of same scale. Let's choose three different divisions such as small (average population under 0.1 % of the world population, meaning countries of 3.7 million people at maximum), medium (0.1-1 %, 3.7-37 million people) and large (over 1 %, over 37 million people).

Large countries

The most summer olympic medals per capita in large countries (1896-2016):

#     Country            Medal points
1.    Germany                 101 081
2.    Great Britain            59 072
3.    France                   42 040
4.    United States            48 084
5.    Italy                    44 537
6.    Russia                   39 594
7.    South Korea              34 888
8.    Japan                    18 671
9.    Ukraine                  16 699
10.   Turkey                    9 112

Data updated: 2019-09-22

Germany being number one is disputable because it includes the medals of East Germany (1968–1988) and Nazi Germany (1936). East Germany especially benefits because the population was relative small compared to the number of medals they got in the best years (17 million and 126 medals in 1980 Moscow). Russia includes medals of Soviet Union (1952–1988), Russian Empire (1908–1912) and Unified team (1992).

Medium countries

The most summer olympic medals per capita in medium countries (1896-2016):

#     Country            Medal points
1.    Finland                 196 963
2.    Hungary                 193 686
3.    Sweden                  192 534
4.    Australia               157 278
5.    Denmark                 154 242
6.    Norway                  139 902
7.    Cuba                    126 436
8.    Bulgaria                124 576
9.    Switzerland             111 980
10.   Netherlands              94 272

Data updated: 2019-09-22

Australia includes medals of Australasia.

Small countries

The most summer olympic medals per capita in small countries (1896-2016):

#     Country            Medal points
1.    Bahamas                 295 284
2.    Jamaica                 184 158
3.    New Zealand             175 443
4.    Grenada                 134 172
5.    Estonia                  96 071
6.    Trinidad and Tobaco      88 989
7.    Iceland                  78 832
8.    Bermuda                  78 095
9.    Slovenia                 75 402
10.   Mongolia                 68 031

Data updated: 2019-09-22


Alright, let's face it. This was bad news. The only option left is to annex Bahamas and its medals. Send out the hornets!

Appendix A

Medals of some countries have been included in some other countries:

  • Medals of Australasia included in Australia (1908–1912)
  • Medals of Bohemia included in Czechoslovakia (1900–1912)
  • Medals of Finland (Russia) included in Finland (1908–1912)
  • Medals of Ceylon included in Sri Lanka (1948–1972)
  • Medals of Nazi Germany included in Germany (1936)
  • Medals of East Germany included in Germany (1968–1988)
  • Medals of Russian Empire included in Russia (1908–1912)
  • Medals of Soviet Union included in Russia (1952–1988)
  • Medals of Chinese Taipei included in Taiwan (1960–2016)
  • Medals won under Olympic Flag included in the countries where the participants were from (1980)
  • Medals of Unified Team included in Russia (1992)