Analyzing Olympic Success by Country with Data Visualization

National pride: Historically, the most powerful of motivating and unifying forces.

Throughout time, and across enumerate societies, populaces have strived for progress, built cities and civilizations, developed cultures and customs, discovered curers, fostered new technologies, raised living standards and realized the strength in unity under the banner of their nation’s flag.


The intrinsic sense of pride, belonging, gratification and responsibility in representing your country, competing under its flag, and personifying all that its symbol embodies is an indescribable honor.

The motivational power of the nation-state cannot be underestimated, and is a pervasive and ever-present force at the Olympic Games, inspiring athletes to compete with passion, reach new heights – to become better, faster, stronger – whilst rousing the most evocative of emotions.

Is there any greater sense of reward then putting in a herculean effort on behalf of ones country at the modern Games? And is there any greater galvanizing moment for a country, and its athletes, than marching united under its national flag at the Opening Ceremony?

As global support has mounted behind the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Olympic movement’s popularity has accelerated steeply, with the vast majority of the world’s political powers placing their economic and ideological backing behind the Games’ dogma and ethos. In fact, 205 countries are in the midst of competing at the Games of the XXX Olympiad (London 2012) – that’s 12 more than the number of member nations of the United Nations.


So which athletes have banded together for country and fellow man, and delivered at the modern Summer Games? Which are the top performing nations at the Olympics? And how has your country faired?

Dashboard: An evaluation of the modern Olympic Games by nation (Summer Games, 1896 – 2008)

Note: As usual, the below dashboard is fully interactive. We’ve chosen to throw our parochial support behind Yellowfin’s home nation (Australia), to re-live our proudest Olympic memories. So start clicking, drilling and filtering to uncover your nation’s most memorable Olympic moments, specific events and national heroes. Whilst our commentary relates to Australia, the dashboard’s default country is set to the USA.


Unfortunately the SmartDataCollective style sheet made our interactive dashboard look ugly 🙁

So, for the best user experience, please view the dashboard HERE >

Then, come back to SmartDataCollective to read on!


Australia: Medals and medalists at the Summer Games (1896 – 2008)

Total medals and medalists

Australia has won a total medal value of 861 since the commencement of the Summer Games at Athens in 1896 (three points for a Gold, two for a Silver, and three for a Bronze medal). Australian athletes have taken home a total of 449 medals at the Summer Olympics. Those medals have been shared between a total of 718 competitors.


Individual brilliance: Australia’s top medal winners

Unsurprisingly, the mighty Thorpedo (Ian James Thorpe) is Australia’s top individual medal winner, with a total of nine bits of Olympic bling (five Gold, three Silver and one Bronze). His five Gold medals also makes him the top Gold medal winning Australian Olympic combatant.

His nine medal winning performances were spread across two Olympic meets. Thorpey claimed five at the Australian-hosted Sydney 2000 Olympics (three Gold and two Silver) and four at the 2004 Athens Games (two Gold, one Silver and one Bronze). His most dominant events were the 200 and 400-meter freestyle, in which he won six of his nine medals. Thorpe shot to fame when, at 14, he became the youngest male to ever represent Australia. His 400-meter freestyle triumph at the 1998 Perth World Championships also made him the youngest individual male world champion.

Dawn Fraser, Leisel Jones, Petria Thomas, Susan (Susie) O’Neill – all also swimmers – round out the top five positions on Australia’s all-time medalists table, with eight shimmering mementos apiece. Sensing a pattern here? Check out how Australia’s swimmers stack up against America’s pool protagonists (and the rest of the world) in our earlier Olympic data blog, Analyzing Swimming at the Summer Games with data visualization.


Number of medals won over time by Australia

Australia has competed at every modern Summer Games, and has gradually built its Olympic presence, finishing fourth on the 2000 and 2004 Olympic medal tables. Australia has hosted the Olympics twice – in 1956 (Melbourne) and 2000 (Sydney). The ‘home ground’ advantage rang true on both occasions, with notable spikes in medals won for both events (Australia won 35 in Melbourne and 59 in Sydney).

Number of medals won by Australia by event and gender

The events in which Australian athletes have performed best over time at the Olympics include Swimming (177), Track and Field (73), Cycling (42) and Rowing (32).


And, since the 1996 Atlanta Games, Aussie sheila’s (women) have more than held their own compared to our barbeque-lovin’ blokes. Over the past four Olympics, Australia has had 314 female medalists and 309 male medalists.

A note on GDP

Our GDP data is inflation adjusted – so it’s real dollar comparisons.

And who would have thunk it; an increase in real GDP equates to more medals won at Olympic competition. So ironically, while the Olympics is meant to be all about bringing the world together, the Games will continue to be inevitably dominated by an economically elite few.


However, interestingly (and counter-intuitively), Australia bucks that trend – the relationship between economic and Olympic might. Australia’s GDP, in real terms, has remained very stable, and so has had little impact on the number of Australian medalists at the Olympics over time. Clearly, the economic credentials of each country are only one factor of myriad capable of impacting the Olympic performance of its athletes.

Where to next?

Keep partisan eye peeled for our continuing series of Olympic data blogs, appearing daily until London’s Closing Ceremony (12 August).