Updated Forecasts for Rio Olympic Medals

August 1, 2016 5:45 PM

The recent ban of the Russia track and field team from the 2016 Rio Olympics makes it likely that the United States, China, and other countries competitive in women’s track and field will win a greater number of medals in the games. The Russian squad won 18 medals in track and field at the 2012 London Games (16 for the women, 2 for the men), and hence the absence of Russian competitors in this field should have an appreciable impact on outcomes, especially for women. This conclusion is derived from an update to the medals forecasts presented in a PIIE Policy Brief published before the ban was imposed.

The ruling barring Russia from track and field came in response to disclosures and the public outcry over state-sponsored doping documented in a recent report by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the complicated structure of Olympic governance. Last year WADA released a two-part report detailing Russian doping at the 2012 London Olympics. WADA itself had come under criticism for sitting on whistleblower allegations, and it was not until bad publicity following a German television documentary that WADA acted. Then earlier this year, another round of whistleblowing spurred an investigation into doping and interference with testing procedures by the host Russian government at the 2014 Sochi Games.

Competition at the Olympics is governed by individual sports federations. Following the release of the WADA report on the London Games, the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF), itself wracked by allegations of criminal misconduct and its top leaders under arrest, banned the Russian track and field team from the Rio Games but left the door open for some remission.

After the release of the WADA report on the Sochi Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) followed suit, announcing that it would ban the entire Russian delegation from the Games. Following weeks of legal challenges and politicking, the IOC shifted its position, announcing that individual sports federations would determine the eligibility of Russian athletes in their respective disciplines. The IAAF stuck to their ban, but the governing body for tennis announced that there was simply not enough time (or resources) to vet Russian athletes, and that it would therefore allow the Russian squad to compete.

Previous forecasts of medals counts were constructed based on conventional explanators such as population, level of income, status as host country, among others. These forecasts have been updated here based on the new information that the Russian squad is excluded from track and field and on the assumption that it will continue to be allowed to participate in other disciplines, as the tennis decision signals.

Biology and less depth of competition make women’s events particularly sensitive to disruption caused by doping. As a consequence, this updated forecast uses models that estimate men’s and women’s competitions separately and then combine the two estimates for an overall medal count forecast. Specifically, medals are subtracted from the original Russian female medal counts (which themselves had been adjusted to reflect doping at the London Games) based on the percentage of Russian female track and field medals of total Russian female medals in London. (Because there are insufficient Russian male track and field medals to reallocate, Russian male medals are not subtracted or reallocated.) For females, track and field accounted for approximately 36 percent of Russian female medals in London, which translates into an additional 11 medals to be reallocated based on the original 2016 forecast model. These 11 medals are subtracted from Russian female medal counts and reallocated among the top 10 female athletics medal receiving countries (excluding Russia) based on their percentage weight in that group of countries. After reallocating these female medals, the new medal counts are added to male predictions to create the male and female aggregate forecasts.

The same method is duplicated with a forecast model based wholly on the marginal changes in the explanatory variables. These two sets of forecasts are reported in tables 1 and 2, respectively, alongside the actual results from the London Games and the original forecasts for Rio.

The recalculations bump up the medals forecasts for large delegations, such as the United States and China, but also augment the forecasted medal hauls of some smaller delegations, such as Jamaica and Kenya, that are particularly competitive in women’s athletics. Cuba could also benefit from the exclusion of the Russians, but missing data prevented constructing a forecast for the country (which is simply assumed to win the same number of medals in Rio as it did in London, 14).

Table 1 2016 forecast results
2012 London Games results Original male and female  aggregate medals forecast Male and female aggregate medals forecast after Russia athletics medals reallocation
Rank Country Total Rank Country Total Rank Country Total
1 United States 104 1 United States 105 1 United States  108
2 China 88 2 China 92 2 China 93
3 Russia 82 3 Russia 66 3 Russia 55
4 Great Britain 65 4 Great Britain 50 4 Great Britain 51
5 Germany 44 5 Germany 43 5 Germany 44
6 Japan 38 6 Japan 42 6 Japan 42
7 Australia 35 7 France 36 7 France 36
8 France 34 8 Australia 35 8 Australia 35
9 Italy 28 9 Brazil 32 9 Brazil 32
9 South Korea 28 10 South Korea 30 10 South Korea 30
11 Ukraine 20 11 Italy 27 11 Italy 27
11 Netherlands 20 12 Canada 24 12 Canada 24
13 Hungary 18 13 Ukraine 20 13 Ukraine 20
13 Canada 18 13 Spain 20 13 Spain 20
15 Brazil 17 15 Netherlands 17 15 Netherlands 17
15 Spain 17 16 Hungary 16 16 Hungary 16
17 Cuba* 14 17 Cuba* 14 17 Cuba* 14
18 New Zealand 13 18 Kazakhstan 12 18 Kazakhstan 12
18 Kazakhstan 13 18 Poland 12 18 Poland 12
20 Jamaica 12 20 Iran 11 20 Islamic Republic of Iran 11
20 Iran 12 20 Belarus* 11 20 Belarus* 11
20 Belarus* 12 20 New Zealand 11 20 Czech Republic 11
* Belarus and Cuba medals held constant from 2012 due to missing data.
Source: Author's calculations.
Table 2 2016 marginal changes forecast results
2012 London Games results Original male and female  aggregate medals forecast Male and female aggregate medals forecast after Russia athletics medals reallocation
Rank Country Total Rank Country Total Rank Country Total
1 United States 104 1 United States  100 1 United States  104
2 China 88 2 China 84 2 China 85
3 Russia 82 3 Russia 67 3 Russia 56
4 Great Britain 65 4 Great Britain 50 4 Great Britain 51
5 Germany 44 5 Germany 38 5 Germany 39
6 Japan 38 6 Japan 37 6 Japan 37
7 Australia 35 7 Australia 34 7 Australia 34
8 France 34 8 France 33 8 France 33
9 Italy 28 9 Brazil 31 9 Brazil 31
9 South Korea 28 10 South Korea 26 10 South Korea 26
11 Ukraine 20 10 Italy 26 10 Italy 26
11 Netherlands 20 12 Ukraine 18 12 Ukraine 19
13 Hungary 18 13 Spain 17 13 Spain 17
13 Canada 18 13 Hungary 17 13 Hungary 17
15 Brazil 17 13 Canada 17 13 Canada 17
15 Spain 17 16 Netherlands 16 16 Netherlands 16
17 Cuba 14 17 Cuba 14 17 Cuba 14
18 New Zealand 13 18 Kazakhstan 12 18 Jamaica 13
18 Kazakhstan 13 18 Iran 12 19 Kazakhstan 12
20 Jamaica 12 20 New Zealand 11 19 Iran 12
20 Iran 12 20 Jamaica 11 19 Kenya 12
20 Belarus 12 20 Kenya 11      
Source: Author's calculations.