Now that the Olympic Games are about to start and the patriots start counting medals, let us ask what determines the success of a country at these events? Obviously, size matters, in particular for team events (and this is why I frustratingly root for the little countries). Bernard and Busse show that economic development also matters. This is not surprising, as a country need to reach some development level to devote resources to sustain a competitive sports program.
Lui and Suen confirm this. Kuper and Sterken as well and argue that the home field advantage has become less important over time. Glen Roberts argues that a cold climate helps as well. Moosa and Smith add health expenditures. Stefan Szymanski claims that medals counts are very predictable and that any discrepancy should be attributable to cheating, an argument that Jacob and Levitt have used successfully in other research.
Of course, Olympic success can be a function of how much sports and in particular competitive sports enjoy public support. Rathke and Woitek make exactly this argument using stochastic frontier analysis which measures how far a country is from its potential. Tcha and Pershin find that, much like in international economics, high-income countries specialize less in particular sports.