Edited by Wolfgang Maennig and Andrew Zimbalist
Chapter 13: Explaining and Forecasting National Team Medals Totals at the Summer Olympic Games
David Forrest, Adams Ceballos, Ramón Flores, Ian G. McHale, Ismael Sanz and J.D. Tena 1 INTRODUCTION At the start of each Olympic Games it has become something of a sport in itself for economists to issue forecasts of how many medals each country will win. Among authors referenced below who have employed their academic work to produce public forecasts have been Andreff and Andreff, Bernard and Busse, Johnson and Ali, Maennig and Wellbroch, and Forrest et al. Each of these research groupings has succeeded in generating significant media attention, a reflection that, while the Olympic Charter might insist that competition is among individual athletes, in practice national medals totals are the focus of considerable interest and strong prestige is perceived to attach to countries that finish well. Indeed, during the Cold War, which country secured the more medals appeared to be one of the major fronts on which America and Russia fought for global reputational supremacy. Now, forecasts may be fun; but, aside from providing benchmarks for the ex post assessment of performance, they appear to offer little social utility since real outcomes are known soon enough in any case. Their real significance is therefore that they provide unusually public out-of-sample testing of underlying models which employ data from previous Games to try to further understanding of how medals totals are determined. Ideally, understanding the reasons behind the distribution of medals would yield implications for policy, both at the level of the individual country and globally (for the International...
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