“A raucous pageant of popular culture” (Guardian) was the last act of the 30th Olympic Games in London, and discussion about the legacy of the Games started. From a global perspective, that legacy is often measured in sporting success – however great the ‘spirit’ of the Olympics is emphasized. So it comes as little surprise that the medal tables are revisited over and over again, with alternative ways of looking at the sporting success having proven quite popular this year. But despite an extraordinary performance of the host nation and some disappointments in other parts of the world, the overall picture of Olympic success stories is of little surprises.
Olympic inequalities already started with an imbalance of participating athletes from around the world (as shown in the map here) which hardly reflects the global population distribution. That pattern is carried forward to the winner’s podium, where in large the wealthier parts of the world are represented (even if some great exceptions have made quite some headlines). The following map shows the final medal tables in Worldmapper-style cartograms, with the main map representing the total medal count, and the smaller inset map splitting these numbers into separate maps of gold, silver and bronze medals, each resizing a country according to the number of medals that it has received (compare these maps to the map of participants and the map of the world’s population):
Speaking of alternative medal tables, one can also draw an alternative version of this map. Not only the host nation can cheer the achievements of Team GB, but with so many nations from Europe taking part in the Olympics, the European Union as a whole is a winner if seen in unity – it would even outnumber the medals of the top two countries (USA and China) by far. This is the European view of Olympic medals. In time of crises, a little bit more collective joy about these happy and glorious games may help to lift the spirits before the Euro-armageddon stories are back in the headlines:
Now time to resume business as usual while waiting for Brazil to be next with Rio de Janeiro hosting the 2016 summer games. Oh, wait, it’s not over yet! London 2012 is just about to begin again…at the Paralympics. How will they compare medalwise?