Medals vs Athletes

Almost everything has been said and shown about the Olympics by now – not just in the maps on this website, but virtually everywhere. The Guardian did extensive juggling of Olympic data resulting in alternative ways of looking at medal counts, and so did many others (such as the excellent graphics team of the New York Times). One last thing from here though…
What was quite interesting to see while working out the statistics for the cartograms featured on this website was the perhaps obvious correlation between the size of a national team and the number of medals that it received. That is of course a correlation that one would expect:
Scatterplot of the medal counts and number of athletes at the 2012 Olympics
The simplified message is: If you want to get some medals, just put enough athletes on stage and you will succeed. Well, it’s not that easy, and the look at the all-time statistics of the modern Olympic games indicated some more interesting patterns and implications that point towards economic wealth as well as political ambitions relating to the overall achievements at the games. In reality, the outcomes of the games are not always that predictable of course. A bigger team can help a country in winning more medals, but in order to afford a bigger team, and to make it more successful – and even more efficient – you have to spend more money on adequate training facilities etc. (beyond the need for skilled and able athletes of course, which larger countries by population may find a bit easier).
To cut things short, the number of medals and the number of athletes made for a nice final roundup of the 2012 Olympics. On average there was one medal for every 11.1 athletes, with Botswana being most efficient for having a total of 4 participants for the one medal they received, closely followed by Jamaica with 4.2 athletes per medal (and they achieved a total of 12 medals). Apart from the many countries without any medal, on the other end of the table with medals is Portugal with 77 athletes for the one medal they received this year. Most countries with many athletes and many medals are to be found more in the middle range around the 11.1 number. The following map shows the number of athletes per medal as a map overlay on the cartogram of medals achieved (as featured here), and without any further discussion of the reasons behind the (un)efficiency of a team from a mere technical point of view the following map is also an example for how even conventional density-equalising cartograms can sometimes serve quite well as a basemap for an additional map layer where they overlaid information on the map can then be understood in relation to the transformed data shown in the cartogram:

Cartogram / Map of the medal counts at the 2012 Olympics and the number of medals achieved per athlete
(click for larger version)

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