Home Advantage at the Olympic Games: 1988-2012

On Monday this week I wrote a post titled Overwhelmed.

Back in 2010 I wrote about Home Ground, Home Advantage.

A comment by Danielle Woodward on my Overwhelmed post sent me off a journey back to 1988.

I thought I would look at all the host cities from Seoul to the present day and consider the impact on the host nation’s performance in the Games immediately before, at the host venue and the following Olympics to look at patterns of performance.

I did not go back to 1984 because of issues about boycott.

I have used the excellent London 2012 Games web site as my source of truth for the medal results for Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London.

The pattern for total medals won at each Olympic Games from Seoul (1988) to the present is:

The data for the graph are (host year in bold):

Total MedalsUSAChinaGBAustraliaKoreaSpainGreece

The pattern of Gold Medal success (and position on the Medal Table) from Seoul (1988) to the present day:

The data for the graph are (host year in bold):

Gold MedalsUSAChinaGBAustraliaKoreaSpainGreece

The position on the Medal Table (based on Gold Medals won) from Seoul (1988) to the present day:

The data for the graph are (host year in bold):

Medal TableUSAChinaGBAustraliaKoreaSpainGreece

There are some fascinating patterns of performance in these tables. Between 1988 and 2012 all host nations saw improvements in their medal table status. Within sixteen years from Atlanta to London, Great Britain improved by 50 places. Korea has shown a very interesting trend. After a dip in overall ranking in 1996 and 2000 Korea has returned to the top 5 nations in 2012. At present their performance curve is concave whilst Australia’s is convex. The country least affected by a home Olympics is Greece.

At the time of hosting a home Olympic Games in the 1988-2012 time period, all nations recoded their best gold medal performance. The USA (2012), Australia (2004) and Korea (2008, 2012) have beaten their home gold medal haul since hosting a Games. (I acknowledge Andrew Read’s comment on this post. Andrew points to the changes in world sport brought about by the demise of East Germany and the transformation of the Soviet Union. In 1988 the Soviet Union led the medal table (132 medals, 55 gold) and East Germany were second (102 medals, 37 gold). The Unified Team led the medal tally in Barcelona in 1992 (112 medals, 45 gold) but the USA were second ahead of a unified German team.)

Photo Credit

Ki Bo Bae

2 thoughts on “Home Advantage at the Olympic Games: 1988-2012”

  1. Keith

    There is a confounding variable in the US performance you have not included – the decline of East Germany and the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War. If they were still competing at their 1980s level at Atlanta then the US performance would likely to have been even worse. This would have them going against the trend of the other Olympic hosts who performed at or near their best at their home Olympics.

    1. Andrew

      Thank you for this observation. I did think about the changes you mention. I took the very pragmatic view that the final table was the source of truth.

      The medal table is a zero sum product. A gold medal won in an event removes that event from another nation. It is interesting to note that some of the prediction algorithms based on socio-economic factors for medal success allocate a value for being a Soviet bloc country.

      I have returned to the post and included your point in the text.

      I am delighted you found the post Andrew.

      Best wishes


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