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Colorado College Professor’s Olympic Medals Prediction 93 Percent Accurate

Colorado College Professor’s Olympic Medals Prediction 93 Percent Accurate


      An economics professor’s Olympic medals predictions have once again scored high marks for accuracy — even though his formula doesn’t consider individual athletes’ abilities.

      Dr. Daniel K.N. Johnson, an assistant professor of economics at Colorado College, accurately predicted how many medals each participating nation would win at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, and how many of those would be gold. There is a 93 percent correlation between his forecasts and the final medal standings, and an 84 percent correlation for gold medals. Johnson’s forecasts are based on non-athletic data. He considers only per capita income, population, climate, political structure and home field advantage.

      Johnson’s formula accurately predicted 13 of the 14 nations who earned the most medals during the Games. The only exception was 13th place South Korea, which was not included due to data limitations.

      Johnson’s model accurately forecast that Germany would top the medal count. He predicted that the nation would capture 28 medals, 10 of them gold. Germany ended the games with 29 medals and 11 golds. Johnson predicted the United States would win 22 medals overall and eight gold. The U.S. won 25 medals and nine golds.

      Johnson also has used his formula to predict results for the 2000 and 2004 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia and Athens, Greece, respectively, and for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Before the Athens Olympics, Johnson predicted the U.S. team would win 103 medals, including 37 gold; the U.S. team won 103 with 35 gold. He said Russia would win 94 medals. It won 92. For the Sydney games, he predicted 90 medals for the U.S., with 33 gold. The Americans won 97 and 39. For Australia, the host, he predicted 54 medals. Australia won 56.

      In Athens, the study predicted overall medal counts with 94 percent accuracy and gold medals with 86 percent accuracy. The overall medal accuracy for the Sydney and Salt Lake City Olympics were 95 percent and 94 percent, respectively.

      Johnson’s paper, “A Tale of Two Seasons: Participation and Medal Counts at the Summer and Winter Olympics,” was first produced in 1999 with Ayfer Ali, while Johnson was teaching at Wellesley College and Ali was a student. It was published in Social Science Quarterly in December 2004.

      Some of the surprises this year, from Johnson’s perspective:

  • More nations — 26 — won medals at these Winter Games than at any previous Winter Olympics. At the Salt Lake City games, 24 nations won medals.
  • Canada won 50 percent more medals than forecast, and nearly displaced the U.S. for second-most medals. Canada shattered its previous record of 17 medals in 2002, with 24 this year.
  • South Korea won 11 medals, equal to China’s haul. Johnson didn’t forecast South Korea due to data issues, but he still didn’t expect the country to break into the top 14 nations.
  • China continues to impress, and for the fourth consecutive Olympics beat the forecast by a large margin. China’s investment in its athletics infrastructure continues to cause this aberration; the country is clearly not following historical trends. Johnson expects this to be even more pronounced in 2008’s Beijing Games, when he expects China will top the podium most often.

   Italy was a very generous host in these Games, giving away more gold and other precious metals than Johnson’s model predicted. The home field advantage didn’t seem to help; Italy actually won three more medals in Salt Lake City than it did while hosting in Torino. Finland and Norway both had disappointing results as well.

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