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Which countries win the most medals at the Winter Olympics?

Kjetil Andre Aamodt (C) of Norway, Ambrosi Hoffmann (R) of Switzerland and Hermann Maier of Austria hold flowers as they stand on the podium after the men's Alpine skiing super-G at the 2006 Torino Winter Olympic Games in Sestriere, Italy February 18, 2006.
RREUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
Kjetil Andre Aamodt (center) and Ambrosi Hoffmann (right), both from Switzerland, and Hermann Maier of Austria after the men’s Alpine skiing super-G at the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics.
  • Amanda Shendruk
By Amanda Shendruk

Visual journalist

Published

The Beijing Winter Olympics begin on Feb. 4, during which time all eyes are likely to be on the Games’ traditionally successful countries: the US, Norway, and Germany. These nations each regularly send delegations with hundreds of athletes, who consistently return home with huge medal hauls.

But with so much attention on these heavy hitters, sometimes the more interesting medal stories are missed—like Liechtenstein, one of the tiniest countries in the world, which sent only three athletes in 2018 yet managed a podium win. Or like China, which despite a population of nearly 1.5 billion grabbed only nine medals.

As you’re watching the scoreboards during this Winter Games, here are some different ways to parse the medal counts (though no matter how you dice it, Norway really holds its own).

Which countries consistently win the most Winter Olympic medals?

Two countries persistently pop up with the most wins during recent winter games: Germany and the US. A strong showing by the US isn’t surprising—the country also has historically dominated the Summer Games.

An interesting no-show on this list is Canada. The country does well in every Winter Olympics—appearing third or fourth in all but one year above—but can’t seem to crack the top two.

Which countries have the best medal-to-population ratio in the Winter Olympics?

You might argue that countries with large populations, like Germany and the US, have an advantage: they simply have more choice. With that in mind, we analyzed how countries performed by comparing wins to population. Here’s what that looked like for the most recent winter Olympics. Do the countries with large populations have the best population-to-medal ratio? Certainly not—take a look at where China falls on the list.

Despite having the largest population in the world, China was only able to grab one win for every 154 million people, which is quite a contrast to its success at recent Summer Olympics. India had similarly bad luck in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. The country won two medals, meaning a single medal for every 656 million people.

Lichtenstein, with a population similar to a typical American college campus, had relatively great success at the 2018 Winter Olympics. It sent only three athletes and grabbed a bronze medal. It also beat out Norway for the top population-per-medal ratio—but only that once. Norway has held the top spot at every other Winter Olympics since 1998.

In the Winter Olympics, which countries have had the best athletes-to-medal ratio?

Now let’s take a look at how many medals a country receives with respect to the number of athletes it sends. Wealthy, populous nations tend to send hundreds of athletes. More people competing could easily mean more medals. But most nations just aren’t sending that many people. A way to compare countries with such different team sizes is by dividing the number of athletes in a team’s delegation by the total medals the nation won, giving us the number of athletes per medal.

Keep in mind, this comparison, while interesting, is not entirely fair. For example, some athletes win multiple medals all on their own, and then there are the team sports—participating in hockey means sending a whole group of people. And if they win, it’s only a single medal.

Here’s what the comparison looked like in 2018.

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