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Team GB to place fourth in Olympic medal table, predicts Birkbeck academic

Professor Klaus Nielsen uses novel measures to predict countries’ success in Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games

Great Britain will place fourth in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games medal table, behind the USA, China and Russia, but the surprise stars of the Games will be the Netherlands and New Zealand who are both predicted to significantly increase their medal tally. These are among the forecasts of a new study from Birkbeck, University of London’s Sport Business Centre (SBC). 

Carried out by Professor Klaus Nielsen of the SBC and Birkbeck’s Department of Management, the study uses a unique measurement method – applying a novel medal point system – based on countries’ results in recent world championships in the Olympic sport disciplines and other recent markers such as world rankings.

Top predictions for Olympic success

The report, published today, predicts the USA will take the top spot (97 medals across 21 sports) on the medal table, followed by China (83 medals across 18 sports) then Russia (53 medals across 15 sports), however all three are predicted to win fewer medals than in recent Olympics – with their total share of the medals marking a drop to 25%, compared to 30% and 28% in the past two Summer Olympics (2008 and 2012, respectively).

Great Britain is predicted to win 51 medals across 13 sports, which is less than the 65 medals Team GB won across 17 sports in 2012.

Japan (39 medals across 13 sports) and France (42 medals across 18 sports) are predicted to experience their most successful Games since 1996 and Brazil may break into the top 10 group of nations in their home Olympics. However, the most remarkable success stories predicted for Rio 2016 are the Netherlands (31 medals across 15 sports) and New Zealand (20 medals across 8 sports).

Further, the analysis predicts the medal share of Asian countries will increase at the expense of the share of European countries, and that the Eurozone crisis countries (including Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain) will experience significant decline and Italy will drop out of the top 10 nations.

The prediction model Professor Nielsen has used for his Rio 2016 analysis is based on results in relevant competitions leading up to the Olympics.

His approach is novel in a number of ways, including:

  • It draws on results as recent as 31 July 2016, which is especially important this year because of the late decisions by international sport federations to ban Russian athletes
  • Unlike many models used to predict Olympic performance, his is based on results rather than estimates based on athlete’s recent form curves
  • In addition to the traditional medal tables and medal counts, the study pioneers a new performance measure, whereby gold medals are weighted five points, silver as three points, and two points to a bronze medal


Professor Nielsen said: “Medal predictions have become a growth industry recently. Academics, the media, management consulting firms and elite sport funding agencies produce predictions based on different methods.

“Studies like ours can be useful for a number of reasons, such as in revealing how much of an impact factors like gross domestic product and population figures explain sporting success at this elite level. For example, in the case of Asian countries and those impacted by the Eurozone crisis, the performance of different nations in the Games is closely linked to their economic strength.

“Comparing these predictive insights with the actual outcome of sporting events such as the Olympic Games are important for the design and implementation of elite sport policy.”      

The full report, “Medal predictions for the Rio Games – the competition between national elite sport systems” can be read on the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre website.

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