Sports

We Made Some Changes To Our Olympic Medal Tracker

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Almost exactly six months after the Summer Olympics ended in Tokyo, it’s time for the next batch of the world’s best athletes to gather together in China for the 2022 Beijing Games. And just like we did last summer, FiveThirtyEight will be tracking each country’s medal-earning progress against its recent form throughout the Olympics.

You can read more about how the tracker works here. But the short version is that each country is assigned an expected medal probability for each event it participates in, based on how it tends to do in that sport — allowing us to add up expected medal tallies for future events and to see who is running hotter or colder than we would think based on their track records of success.

The system for the 2022 Olympics works almost exactly the same as last time, with two meaningful tweaks based on what we learned over the summer.

The first involves home advantage in the COVID-19 era. One of the biggest underachievers of the Tokyo Games (with 13.7 fewer medals than expected) was the host, Japan, whose expectations were set in part by assuming a home-country “bounce.” The host-nation boost at the Olympics is well-documented, but last summer’s Games were held under abnormal pandemic conditions with spectators kept out of most events. A greatly reduced crowd will be expected in Beijing as well. In response to this, we cut our previous host-country-bounce effect in half — which happens to roughly correspond to what Japan’s relatively modest boost was last summer.

The other change involves Russia — err, the Russian Olympic Committee (“ROC”). After a doping scandal, ROC athletes were barred from competing under the Russian flag (and some of them were barred from the Games, period). Because of this, we had generally downgraded Russian medal expectations in our previous trackers, assuming the sanctions would harm the ROC’s ability to rack up medals. However, that was clearly not true in Tokyo. Contrary to our tracker’s modest expectations, the ROC finished third in the medal table, beating our pre-Olympics projection by a whopping 18 medals (the biggest “miss” — high or low — for any country). Thus, we removed any “doping penalty” from the ROC for the Beijing Games.

Even though this remains a simple medal tracker relative to baseline expectations — not a full-blown forecast like the ones we issue for other sports — those two changes should make those baselines more realistic. Otherwise, we look forward to keeping tabs on Norway, the U.S., Canada and the rest of the top projected countries in the field.

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