A data driven analysis – How to excel at Olympics

 In AI, ML and Data

A lot is being written about how ‘Digital’ is impacting and shaping the world around us. Everyone realizes ‘Digital’ is the way forward including the Government of India. A trending topic doing rounds of the social media is India’s performance or the lack of it at Rio 2016. It will be interesting to see what a data driven – ‘digital’ analysis of performance of countries at the Olympics yield for India’s quest to do well. In this article, we put the medals tally in perspective and analyze performance trends that may lead India to a winning strategy in future Olympics. It may not be inaccurate if we say this is a kind of analysis seen in movies like ‘Moneyball’. A data centric analysis of the Olympics based on the medals tally was carried out to find out what could be done to improve India’s performance in future. While the medals table doesn’t always do ample justice to the performance of the athletes and countries, it does give a fair idea about how countries have performed.  Using the Accelerite ShareInsights platform a data centric analysis of Olympics was performed to discover the following insights about how India can do better:

Quest to be the best: Top 10

A simple analysis to find out how many medals are enough to guarantee a top 10 finish in the medal tally. A top 10 finish will surely be a good goal to start off. We analyzed the data for last 6 editions of Olympics and looking at the top 10, we find that 8-9 Gold Medals are enough to get a top 10 finish 5 out of 6 times. The Sydney games being the only exception.


Focus gets you there!

Analyzing the top 20 countries in terms of events in which they won medals in and how many events in which they won medals. On the basis of a metric that we define as medals concentration (refer to the calculation methodology below to understand how we arrive at this metric) to analyze the focus of countries on a specific sport. This is measure of proportion of medals a country wins from a specific sport, we find out that US won more than half of its 121 medals in Swimming and Athletics only. With more than 50% of medals concentrated in two events US has focused on mastering these two disciplines.  When we carefully analyze the medal concentration for all the countries we will find that except for France, all the top 20 countries have some of the other sport contributing to more than 1/6th of their total medal tally i.e. more than 16% concentration of one or more sports. China has a fifth of its medals coming from Diving, Great Britain has 21.6% of its medals coming from cycling. A Third of Russia’s medals are from either Wrestling or Gymnastics.

Some countries have very skewed medal hauls with only two or three sports contributing to their entire Olympic tally like 11th placed Hungary getting medals only in Canoeing, Fencing and Swimming to add to the solitary Bronze in Athletics. In fact if you look at Kenya and Jamaica in 15th and 16th place respectively, you will find that their entire Olympic haul is from Athletics only. Deeper analysis will make you realize that Jamaica focuses on short distance sprints while Kenya wins the long distance competitions.

Insight: Focus on only a few categories and try to develop those categories and dominate them!


Talking about domination we move to our next dashboard where we can find which country or countries dominate a specific event.

Toppers Dominate:

Before analyzing how countries dominate different events, we first look at the overall distribution of medals at the Olympics. The tree map in the dashboard below clearly tells us that Athletics (141) and Swimming (104) are the sports that have the most medals on offer. The area occupied by each of the events is proportional to the number of medals on offer in that event.

We now find out if a country or countries dominate any discipline.


If we choose Athletics, we see that US dominates with 24.59% of total medal score for Athletics. Kenya and Jamaica also do very well but not even half as well as what US does.

Swimming is even more skewed towards US with US getting 36.22% of total medal score for Swimming. No wonders that US tops the Olympics by dominating two sports that have maximum medals on offer.

You will also see that although Diving has only 24 medals on offer, China scores a whopping 58.33% medal score in diving and truly dominates this sport. Archery is similarly dominated by South Korea with an identical medal score of 58.33%. China dominates weightlifting while Uzbekistan dominates Boxing.

Insight: When you pick up a sport to focus on, it should ensure that you dominate that sport by winning a majority of medals in that sporting discipline.

So to dominate a discipline a complete ecosystem should be created around that sport


Participants to medals ratio:

We find it as measure of how many athletes a country has to send to Olympics to win a medal. For all the top 20 countries barring the hosts Brazil the ratio is less than 20. In case of the hosts they have bigger contingent as they get direct entry into many sports where they may not be dominant. For example Brazilian hockey teams wouldn’t have made it to the Olympics had they not been the hosts. So that explains the skew. For India, though, the ratio is 60+. So if India has to dominate and finish in top 10. Clearly a lot more of our athletes need to win medals.blog6

Interesting Observations:

  1. US wins more than half of its medals in Swimming and Athletics.
  2. Jamaica and Kenya won all their medals in Athletics – Sprints and long distance races respectively.
  3. Except for France most top 20 countries have their medal hauls concentrated in two, three or four sports.
  4. If the Athletics and Swimming weren’t part of the Olympics, US would have finished 4th and Great Britain would have finished first.
  5. China has more than 50% medal score in diving.
  6. South Korea dominates Archery with 58% medal score.
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  • Navjyot

    I always diligently watch Olympics for the love of Sports. As the blog rightly showcased , mostly this is what I had observed over a course of years about The Games. Its amazing how data can put across these things precisely. Really nice Blog and Insights.

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