Perhaps the most controversial Winter Olympics in history, this year Sochi, Russia has been the focus of several international headlines – many negative. Everything from the dire state of the city’s hotels, to the huge issue of Gay Rights, to the concerns over security and the rumored threat of the ‘black widow’, have thrown Russia into the (somewhat unflattering) spotlight. In the run up to the games, there have been numerous articles speculating about which world leaders would attend, and which would boycott in protest of some of Russia’s questionable human rights policies. Whatever your opinion of the Russian Federation, though, the Games have gone ahead to the tune of approximately $51 Billion USD. It’s unclear whether the fact that British PM David Cameron and American president Barack Obama were both conspicuously absent from the games’ opening ceremony had anything to do with a ‘boycott’- but their country’s teams didn’t do the same. Any wins will certainly be celebrated by all when the team comes home. 2,850 athletes from 88 countries (plus 1650 Paralympians from 45 countries) are at the Games. The Olympic Park at Sochi holds 75,000, and there will be 25,000 volunteers. The numbers are staggering. There is an expected TV audience of 3 Billion people. Who are the richest countries competing in Sochi? Aside from questions of quality of life, economic equality or even sports prowess, what we do know is that the following countries are, according to IMF 2012 stats, the ten wealthiest countries competing in this year’s Winter Olympics. The countries on this list have the highest GDPs of all the countries competing in the games – but is this an indicator of team strength or possible wins? Read the stats and judge for yourself what the correlation might be. There are some parallels, historically, as well as some total misses – probably for reasons of geography and climate. When the Games are over, you can look back at this list to see if a country’s levels of wealth predict their success in international team sports. Do the richest countries give it their all? Read on to find out.
10. Australia: GDP of $1.54 Trillion
This year at Sochi, Australia has its biggest winter Olympic team ever, with 60 athletes. At the last winter games in Vancouver they had 40, and before that 27, decreasing each year prior except 1960 when there were 31. Australia was first represented at the 1936 Olympics, and then again in 1952 and each time since. They won their first medal in Lillehammer in 1994 – a bronze. To date Australia has amassed a total of nine medals: five gold, one silver and three bronze. They will not be competing in curling or ice hockey at Sochi. They are not expected to qualify for Nordic Combined or Ski Jumping, but have athletes in the remaining eleven categories.
9. Canada: GDP of $1.821 Trillion
At Vancouver in 2010, Canada brought home its biggest Winter-Olympic win ever, with twenty-six medals – fourteen of which were gold. This was a record number of gold medals for any one country to win at a Winter Olympics. Team Canada is bigger than it has ever been this year, with 221 athletes competing across every sport. The agency Infostrada Sports has projected a Virtual Medal Table of which countries are expected to win (and place) in which sports. It will be interesting to see how close to the mark they are. If correct, Canada will win more total medals this year than in Vancouver, but will win less gold, garnering only eleven first-places. We’ll have to watch and see!
8. Italy: GDP of $2.014 Trillion
113 athletes make up Team Italy for the Sochi Winter Games. Italy won 5 medals in Vancouver, 2010, and over their entire Winter-Olympic history have garnered a whopping total of 106 medals: 37 gold, 32 silver and 37 bronze. Alpine Skiing, Cross-Country Skiing and Luge are their most successful events, with their weakest being Skeleton, Nordic Combined and Figure Skating. Their most successful years have been: 1994 (20 medals), 1992 (14 medals), 2002 (13 medals) and 2006 (11 medals), with smaller wins every other year they participated, ranging from 2-5 medals most years.
7. Russia: GDP of $2.03 Trillion
With their bitterly cold winters, it is ironic that as a country Russia first participated in a Winter Olympics after the Caribbean island of Jamaica – before this, they participated as part of the Soviet Union. Russia cleaned house in ’94, winning the most medals that year and dominating figure skating every year from 1994 on (tying for the lead once with Canada) until 2010, when China won both gold and silver. The pressure is on for this host-country to perform better than ever, partly because of their history and partly because the whole world knows this is the most expensive Winter Games ever. удачи, Россия (Good luck, Russia).
6. Brazil: GDP of $2.25 Trillion
Although Brazil has been involved with the Summer Olympics since 1920 winning 108 medals in its 94-year history, this newcomer to the Winter Games has made only seven appearances, including Sochi. Their Winter Olympics team is its biggest to date, with thirteen athletes – a vast improvement over 1994 and 1998, when they had one. This year they will be represented in Figure Skating, Alpine Skiing, Cross-Country Skiing, Freestyle Skiing, Bobsleigh, Biathlon and Snowboarding. This South-American nation has a mild climate, with moderately cool regions in some areas. They have one ski resort in the entire country, which offers synthetic snow “carpets” for skiing year round.
5. Great Britain: GDP of $2.48 Trillion
Although the U.K. is hilly, it is not mountainous the way Italy or Switzerland are, nor is there much snow or ice, but these people have long traveled for winter activities. Great Britain’s 2014 team consists of 56 athletes across ten sports. At the Winter Olympics this country has won 29 medals to date – its most ever during one Game in 1908 and then 1924, with decreasing numbers since. As of 1948 they have never brought home more than one or two medals at a time. After 2010, the country upped their funding and are hopeful about improving their prospects this year in Freestyle Skiing, Snowboarding, Curling, Short Track Skating and Skeleton.
4. France: GDP of $2.61 Trillion
This country hosted the first ever Winter Olympic Games in Chamonix in 1924. Overall, they have won the most of their medals in the category of Alpine Skiing, followed by Biathlon and Figure Skating. Their total medal wins in Winter Olympics is 94, with 11 at Vancouver, 2010. With a current team of 114, France is a powerhouse, and although President Hollande is staying away to protest in support of Gay Rights, the team has not stayed away. They are hoping to win gold, silver and bronze for their countrymen, no matter what their sexual orientation or their political stance.
3. Germany: GDP of $3.43 Trillion
Angela Merkel is another world leader not attending Sochi to show her disapproval for Russia’s anti-gay laws. If the “Saturday Night Live” interpretation of the Merkel/Obama photo drama were to be believed, the German and U.S. leaders might be cozied up together somewhere. As it stands, the German team of 153 athletes was fully capable of both attending and being supportive of their homosexual countrymen without their chief. They wore rainbow outfits for the opening ceremonies, having their own mini Pride Parade. Germany is one of the biggest medal-winners on our list, having previously won 192 medals throughout their Winter Olympic history, nearly rivaling Canada in 2010 with a total of 30.
2. Japan: GDP of $5.96 Trillion
Japan has won thirty-seven Winter Olympic medals to date, with their strongest categories being Speed Skating, Ski Jumping and Figure Skating. The previously mentioned Virtual Medal Table by Infostrada has them winning eight medals this year, lower than the team’s own target goal of ten. These 113 athletes are the epitome of youth and athleticism, with female athletes this year outnumbering males for the first time. Not bothered by the boycott ruckus over Gay Rights, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is in Sochi hoping to accelerate negotiations with President Putin over Russian-held islands off of Japan. Olympics, or World Supremacy? Isn’t it the same thing…?
1. United States: GDP of $16.24 Trillion
The largest of any team on this list and indeed the world, the United States’ 230 athletes caps the Russian team by just 7. Their determination to be the best is spurred on by their history. In Vancouver, 2010, the U.S. won 9 gold and a total of 37 medals. Past athlete Eric Heiden (Speed Skating) swept the 1980 Lake Placid Games, winning the five events from 500m to 10,000 m and breaking records for each one in the process. He was also the first person to win five gold medals in one Winter Olympic Games. The U.S. has hosted the Winter Olympics four times, more than any other country. Over the years they have won 256 medals, 87 of which are gold, and are second in total gold medals as well as total medal count only to Norway.
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