The DataHero Blog

Olympic Data Trends

February 20th, 2014


Olympic viewers in the United States, along with much of the rest of the world, focus their attention on the Sochi Olympics this year. Some wins have been in line with predictions; the Dutch collected speed skating medals like they were going out of style, a favorite sport for them.  Other outcomes were more surprising, the Russians were just knocked out of the ice hockey quarter-finals in their home country, for example. What trends can we find relating to sports, how long they’ve been Olympic games, and favored countries for each sport? We used data looking at medal counts by country, year and discipline to see what we could find.

Snowboarding is one of the newest winter sports and a great place to start. It was accepted into the Olympic games in 1998. In order for a new discipline to be accepted, it must be “widely practiced” by men in at least 75 countries and four continents, and by women in at least 40 countries on three continents. Protestors of adding snowboarding to the Olympics argued that it was largely an American sport, adopted by teenagers who said things like “gnarly” and “big air”, hardly a sport to be taken seriously by the International Olympic Committee. The chart below depicts number of snowboarding medals won by country and year.

The naysayers may have had a point about Americans and their snowboarding as they seem to dominate the snowboarding competitions in 2006 and 2002. In 2010 though, the French and Canadians appear to be catching up to the US and Switzerland. Shaun White, America’s snowboarding favorite, also didn’t place at all this year.

Alpine skiing has been a winter Olympic sport since 1936, but still sees quite a large gap between the most-awarded country and the second most-awarded. This debunks the idea that only new sports see this discrepancy in number of medals for the country in first place. Below is a percentage graph of alpine skiing medals by country and year.

DataHero Alpine Skiing Medal Trends by Country (1)

Austria has a similar gap in medals, with double the number of medals in Alpine Skiing as the next country, Switzerland. There are, however, 19 countries who have won medals in alpine skiing, compared to the 14 countries who have won medals in snowboarding.

Ice hockey has been an Olympic sport since 1924, but shows an even stronger discrepancy between leading countries in the chart below.
DataHero Ice Hockey Medals by Country (1924-2010) (1)

This confirms what most of us already knew; Canadians are serious about their hockey. Canada takes home the most medals overall, and the most gold medals, while the United States clearly comes second fairly frequently to Canada, as you can see in the US silver medal count. Even though ice hockey has been an Olympic sport for longer than both alpine skiing and snowboarding, there are only 13 countries who have taken home medals in this sport. It’s also interesting to note that the former Soviet Union (URS) is still one of the top four ice hockey teams of all time.

In fact, in the chart below we can see medals won by country and year in a percentage graph, and the former Soviet Union (URS) and the German Democratic Republic (GDR) are quite prominently displayed on the graph.

DataHero Percentage of Medals Won by Country and Year (2)


The Soviet Union holds fourth place in overall medal count between 1924 and 2010 and the German Democratic Republic holds tenth place in overall medal count. You can also see an increase in the “All Others” category after the former Soviet Union dissolved and the 15 post-Soviet states entered as independent countries in the chart above. We can also see the resurgence of German medals in 1988, when East and West Germany reunited.

Stay tuned for more Olympic updates, or throw in your own Olympic data into DataHero and see what you can find.

Sign Up Free For DataHero


Access Olympic Datasets

By Kelli Simpson

Create my Free DataHero Account

Get the fastest, easiest way to understand your data today.