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Why do some countries seem to dominate the Olympics?


Medals per Capita
Jamaican Usain Bolt took home the gold in the 100-meter race in Beijing's 2008 games. He set a new world record -- 9.69 seconds.
Jamaican Usain Bolt took home the gold in the 100-meter race in Beijing's 2008 games. He set a new world record -- 9.69 seconds.
Photo courtesy © IOC/Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Athletes from smaller, and in some cases, less wealthy, nations find themselves on top of the podium, too. Instead of lauding the number of overall medals, let's consider further the per capita count.

For starters, China has a vast population of more than a billion. The United States is certainly more diminutive in terms of numbers, but still pretty far up the rung at more than 300 million. In 2002, at the Salt Lake City games, the U.S. -- then with a population of about 290 million citizens -- garnered one medal per 8.5 million people with its second-place spot of 34 total medals. Germany, in first place with 36 medals, earned one medal for every 2.3 million Germans (2002 population of 83 million). On the other hand, Norway, with a population of just 4.2 million people, garnered 25 medals -- or one medal per close to 176,000 citizens [source: Culpepper]. That's a lot more sterling athleticism, in the form of gold, silver and bronze.

Consider too, the Bahamas at the Athens 2004 games. Not a lot of medals came home, sure, but it was one medal for roughly 150,000 citizens. Per capita podium ranking: Australia came in second; Cuba came in third. How did the U.S. place in this particular race? Came in 40th. China? 73rd [source: Culpepper]. Ouch. Not so close to the overall athletic grandeur now, are we guys?