#20. LONG VIEW: National Effort at the Olympics
Read Time: 3 min
This is LONG VIEW, one of two of our weekly columns. We are a pair of finance professionals with boots on the ground in China, each with 10 years of experience in the country. If you like what we are doing please subscribe 👇 and share it with a colleague or friend.
Gold Count to Athletes Fielded
As the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are currently taking place, we thought we’d take the opportunity to make some charts on the topic. Maybe we’ll catch some interesting trends in there. We’ll also add a short rundown from a China sports observer at the end.
1. Data Source
The data set was made available by heesoo37 on Kaggle, which itself was scraped from a private Olympic enthusiast website back in 2018 (old site here). The site recently re-opened (new site here) after a few years of being shut down due to data licensing issues, this time with the apparent blessing of the International Olympics Committee.
The Olympedia research site contains the profiles and results of all Olympic athletes and informative descriptions about the Games, events, venues, and much more. It is the most comprehensive database about the Olympic Games and is the result many years of work by a group of Olympic historians and statisticians called the OlyMADmen. […]
We have recently received permission to open Olympedia to the public, and it will no longer require a password. We thank the International Olympic Committee for working with us on this project, and granting us this permission. We are excited and hope you will be, too.
The Kaggle database includes all the Games from Athens 1896 to Rio 2016 and unfortunately hasn’t been updated (licensing?) with data for the PyeongChang 2018 or the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, despite the new site already holding this information. Either way, let’s see what we can make of what we have.
2. Athletes Fielded
Let’s first pull up the counts of athletes fielded (athletes taking part in the Games) by country for both the Summer and Winter Olympics. We’ll go with the most recent entries available in the database (Rio 2016, Sochi 2014).
And here’s the Winter Olympics.
In both instances, the United States leads the pack with nearly 700 (Summer) and over 300 (Winter) athletes participating. Host countries get a boost in participation counts. No surprises here. China clearly favours the Summer Olympics with over 500 athletes participating over the Winter Olympics with 100 athletes participating.
3. Gold Count to Athletes Fielded
Now here’s the interesting bit. Can you measure Gold medal “effectiveness”? What percentage of the athletes fielded can be expected to win a gold medal? Does this change over time?
In the Summer Olympics, China has made sustained efforts to increase its gold medal effectiveness going from ~5% to ~15% since 1975. The United States sits at just under ~20% on average. Norway has recently seen a boost. And India shows a steep decline [explained by: (A) sending small high probability teams before; (B) increasing count of athletes fielded?].
The Winter Olympics isn’t as popular as its Summer equivalent. Except for Canada, which likely regards the Winter Olympics as more important. Canada has visibly upped its game since the 1990s. China only recently has started participating. The United States shows bursts of effort (notice the peaks).
4. Sporting Superpower
There is a recently published book by a long time expat (in Beijing since 2007) Mark Dreyer called “Sporting Superpower: An Insider’s View on China’s Quest to Be the Best” that may be of interest. He also posts frequently on his website chinasportsinsider.com. Some generalisable points from his work for anyone looking for equity exposure:
China tennis (most mature since Li Na win in 2011)
Winter sports (follow up to 2022 Olympics)
Motor sports (because Chinese national in F1)
Local sports clothing brands (e.g. ANTA)
General fitness (because call for mass participation)
For the details, here’s selected Q&A from a recent interview Dreyer did:
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your thoughts on the evolution of sports in Beijing since you first came to China vs now?
A: There have been three main waves of growth from the sports industry that I've witnessed. After the Olympics in 2008, there was a bit of downturn. But in 2014, the government released a policy document detailing plans to develop the largest sports industry in the world and that really turned things around.
The first wave was soccer 2015; we had a big 50-point plan which, to be honest, they've struggled to put into action but they've tried and we've seen kind of a boom – and now bust – in certain areas.
The second big one was in winter sports, because Beijing won the 2022 Olympic bid in the summer of 2015, so that turbocharged the winter sports growth engine.
The third wave was what we call mass participation, which was a more organic wave of people getting into sports like running, swimming, fitness, gyms, yoga and all that sort of stuff.
Q: What are your predictions about the future of sports in Beijing and China?
A: I still think the main drivers are, one, the initial push by that government policy, and second, the more organic push from China's population that is seeing more value in sports and in being more active themselves. People today want to get their children more involved in sports and I think that is what makes me truly optimistic about the future of sports here. Sports is now seen as a legitimate part of the economy.
Q: In your opinion, what are the top three most significant sports related moments in Beijing/China?
A: Okay, I will restrict it to my time in China again. From 2008 until now, in my opinion, number one has to be Li Na winning the 2011 French Open. I think that it was really significant and that really put China on the map in tennis globally.
Number two, I've done a lot of motor racing commentary in my time here, since 2013 being involved in several racing series which have been aired on Fox Sports Asia, in terms of reporting, presenting, and commentating; so I've gotten to know a lot of the drivers. Zhou Guanyu is now in Formula 1 for the first time this year, which is a massively significant moment for China and for motor sports in China. He's a good guy, he's very polished, he speaks great English, and he's very presentable. I think fans around the world will really like him, and this could revolutionize motor sports in China.
The third one comes from 2017 and it's an episode I examine closely in the book. China's President was visiting the Olympic sites in Zhangjiakou and was wearing an ANTA-branded jacket. It's not often that leaders from any country wear branded clothes, and is certainly not common in China either, but it was hugely significant, because it meant China wasn't just embracing global sports, but was also developing its own sports industry, so that support of a local brand like ANTA was significant. It wouldn't surprise me if we see the President wearing some ANTA clothing in the next few days, along with Team China. It would be a very proud and patriotic moment for many in the country.
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