Gold Fever: predicting the number of medals for Team GB at London 2012. THE RESULT

Way back in April, one of our articles predicted the number of medals that Team GB would win at London 2012.  It’s always tempting to quietly ignore the predictions one has made, and hope that others have forgotten but perhaps the brave thing to do would be to do a public review.  So, gulp, here goes.

Some of my colleagues (Simon Shibli and Chris Gratton) made predictions on the number of medals and focussed in particular on the ‘host nation effect’ where medal chances are enhanced for the nation that hosts the Olympics.  They made rather wild prediction that GB would get 27 Gold medals and 56 in total (with the caveat that the latter appeared low).  Others such as Infostrada used current performances to make predictions and reckoned that GB would get 16 Gold and 57 medals in total.  In June 2012, SportsMyriad predicted 20 Gold and 67 medals in total.

And my prediction?  Well, I went for 21 Gold and 60 medals in total based on a pure statistics approach that tried to ignore gut instinct (although eventually I couldn’t resists and increased my Gold prediction to 23 for no other reason than I wanted to).

Our performance: over the moon, amazing, ‘still not sunk in’ and other common phrases

Now we know that Team GB did unbelievably well, way above our expectations and it still hasn’t sunk in (and other cliches): 65 medals with 29 Gold, 17 Silver and 19 Bronze.  It appears that Shibli and Gratton’s approach was closest on Gold medal tally  – only 2 below – but 9 shy of the total medal count.   On the other hand, SportsMyriad were only 2 off the total medal count but did badly on the Gold Medal prediction.  Infostrada distinctly underestimated the outstanding TeamGB performance.

My predictions appear to be somewhere in the middle: not particularly close but not too far away either (8 away from the Gold medals and 5 away from the total).  One thing that is really interesting about all of this is that a holistic approach works at all.  It seems that using the minutiae of performance in terms of world records, current standings and recent results is worse than looking at  26 sports (with 39 disciplines) as a whole system.  What the work of Shibli and Gratton showed was that host nations broaden the range of sports in which they win medals: their prediction of 15 was just 1 short of the actual number of 16 successful sports at London 2012.

A better performance than expected

My prediction was based solely on what Australia had done in Sydney 2000, i.e. 6.3% of medal share, equivalent to 60 medals at London 2012. I suggested that the gold medal share was increasing faster and my linear regression going back 4 Olympic Games predicted a 7.6% share for Team GB.  Not only did Team GB exceed the total medals by 5 to 65, but the market share of Gold medals was way over the prediction at 9.6%.  It seems that the ‘quality’ of the medals is getting better.  Why?  I’d like to think that perhaps the organisation and technical support from UK Sport (of which we were part) might have something to do with it.

Australia vs TeamGB:  Share of the total medals and Gold medals awarded at London 2012.

What goes up must come down

Of course, some commentators are already turning to Rio and wondering if we can do even better.  However, the evidence points towards a drop in the total number of medals for the Olympic host in the next event by around 1.2% 0f medal share (see below, left).  This equates to around 11 medals and has happened to every Olympic host since 1988. The silver lining, however, is that the number of gold medals might still increase, despite the lower medal tally (see Australia below right).

Congratulations to all the Team GB athletes, to UK Sport, the coaches, the sports scientists and all the volunteers who made it such a fantastic experience.  And to Danny Boyle?  You had me at ‘hello’.


About stevehaake

Steve did a first degree in Physics at the University of Leeds before landing two job offers: the first with BT turned out to be in a porta-cabin in the middle of a marsh, while the second was supposed to be image processing but was really smart-bomb design. This left a third option – a PhD in the mechanics of golf ball impacts on golf greens for a person who’d never hit a golf ball. It was a simple choice (the PhD if you didn’t guess) which led 25 years later to being head of a research team of 30-40 looking into similarly unlikely topics. Highlights of the career so far? The early years setting up the ISEA with the likes of Steve Mather, Ron Thompson, Clive Grant and Ron Morgan; the fact that the 1st International Conference on Sports Engineering in Sheffield in 1996 didn’t also turn out to be the last; and getting out the first issue of the first journal on Sports Engineering in 1998. The absolute high point, though, was being in the British Club in Singapore as a guest of the High Commission when the bid for the 2012 Olympics was announced. This has led to the team delivering projects with Olympic athletes that every scientist with a love of sport can only dream of. Steve is now a Senior Media Fellow funded by the EPSRC to encourage the public to engage in science, particularly in the lead up to the London 2012 Olympic Games.

2 Responses

  1. Professor Edward M Winter

    A good effort but if you have a look at:

    Nevill, A.M., Balmer, N.J. and Winter, E.M. (2009). Why Great Britain’s success in Beijing could have been anticipated and why it should continue until 2016. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 43: 1108-1110.

    you will see that using logistic regression, there was a prediction of 63 . . . 😉

  2. Anonymous

    I notice from your paper that you use an estimate of 1000 medals to calculate your 63 total using your probability of 0.063. In fact, there were only 962 which makes your estimate actually 60.6 which I’ll round up to 61. So, a good effort and looks like we came to the same conclusion. From the figure above though, the ‘best’ fit was most unexpected for the total medal prediction – a straight line from T=-8 years to T=0!

Comments are closed.