2016 Olympic medal tally: Academics beat Goldman Sachs to Team GB medal prediction gold medal

Joe Hall
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Hockey - Olympics: Day 14
Gold standard: Team GB's Rio performance confounded the experts (Source: Getty)

Ahead of this year’s Olympics an assortment of economists, academics, statisticians and pundits used the Games as an opportunity to flex their forecasting muscle by publicly predicting the final medal table.

From economic power to historical sporting stats, the various models crunched the numbers to project how the final medal table would appear.

An analysis of high profile forecasts — including those from Goldman Sachs and PwC — reveals the scale of Great Britain’s achievement in finishing second, ahead of China, in the final medal table.

City A.M. gathered eight pre-Olympic top 10 medal standings projections, six of which predicted Great Britain would finish in third and two of which said fourth in the final standings — behind Russia — was the most likely outcome for the team.

As well as predictions from Goldman Sachs and PwC, City A.M. took collated medal tally estimations from the Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, a combined effort from two academics at the University of Salford and University of Liverpool, economists at Ruhr University, the Wall Street Journal, sport statisticians at Gracenote Sports and ATASS Sports.

Of those only Dartmouth economists Andrew B. Bernard and Camila Gonzales, whose model measures population, per capita income, past performance and a host effect, correctly predicted Great Britain’s final haul of 67 medals. Yet their model followed a trend in overestimating China’s performance by predicting them to finish second with 89 medals in total.

Four years ago, economists at Goldman Sachs correctly predicted Great Britain’s 65 medals but this year their contention that the loss of home advantage would cost the team meant they finished eight medals off the mark with a prediction of 59.

Medal rank Final Rio standings PwC Goldman Gracenote WSJ ATASS UniLiv/UniSal Uni Ruhr Dartmouth
1 USA (121) USA (108) USA (106) USA (88) USA (101) USA (105) USA (99) USA (100) USA (105)
2 Great Britain (67) China (98) China (89) China (71) China (82) China (75) China (90) China (86) China (89)
3 China (70) Russia (70) GB (59) GB (56) GB (52) GB (55) GB (51) GB (64) GB (67)
4 Russia (56) GB (52) Russia (58) Germany (51) Russia (51) Australia (48) Russia (42) Russia (53) Russia (62)
5 Germany (42) Germany (40) Germany (46) France (47) Germany (51) Germany (42) Australia (37) Japan (47) Germany (48)
6 Japan (41) Australia (35) Japan (39) Russia (42) Australia (48) France (41) Germany (36) Germany (43) Japan (43)
7 France (42) France (34) France (36) Australia (41) France (43) Russia (38) Japan (31) Australia (34) Australia (35)
8 South Korea (21) Japan (33) Australia (35) Japan (36) Japan (35) Japan (33) France (30) Brazil (34) France (35)
9 Italy (28) South Korea (27) South Korea (28) Netherlands (28) Netherlands (29) Netherlands (26) Italy (26) France (34) Italy (29)
10 Australia (29) Italy (26) Italy (28) South Korea (25) South Korea (24) South Korea (25) Netherlands / Spain (20) Italy / South Korea (28) South Korea (28)

Goldman’s model took into account Olympic medal performance since 1980 and measured it against a combination of population size, wealth and how “efficiently run” the countries are. Yet despite missing the mark on Team GB, Goldman’s projected top 10 was the most accurate of those compiled by City A.M. alongside Dartmouth economists Bernard and Gonzales.

The two forecasts were the only two to correctly predict five top 10 countries’ final finishes and were two of just three to correctly predict which countries would make up the top 10.

As well as underestimating Great Britain’s away from home performance, the forecasters tended to overestimate China and underestimate the United States’s level of dominance.

The USA team came away from Rip with 121 gold medals — 13 more than the 108 forecast by PwC, the largest estimate of the eight studies. PwC’s model took into account how well a country had done at the last two Olympics, home advantage and a country’s economy although it should be noted did not take into account Russia’s track and field ban.

South Korea also confounded expectations with 21 medals giving them an eighth placed finish. Ahead of the Games, their best predicted finish was ninth from Goldman Sachs and PwC.

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