The 2018 Winter Olympics are basically halfway over,1 and the usual suspects are off to a great start. The Norwegians, the kings of cross-country skiing, currently lead the medal table with 22 pieces of hardware, including seven golds. The Germans, who traditionally rule luge and biathlon, are not far behind with nine golds and 17 medals. The United States, meanwhile, is in a four-way tie for fifth, having nabbed only nine total medals.
How many should we expect the U.S. to have at this stage of the games, though? Since medals in different sports are awarded at different times, it can be difficult to know whether a country is behind where they should be or right on track. To help with that, we created a simple medal tracker. It compares a given country’s medal count with how many we’d expect based on its historical performance in the sports that have already been completed at this year’s games. It also tells you how many remaining medals a country should pick up over the rest of the Olympics if its athletes play to form. (One note on this: We’re looking at the broad categories of events that make up the Olympics — Alpine skiing, snowboarding, curling, etc. — not the specific events within those categories.)
Here’s how it works: We collected Winter Olympics medal data going back to 1998, when snowboarding was added to the official program as a new sport,2 and then calculated the share of medals that each country won in each sport. For example, from 1998 to 2014, the U.S. won 33 percent of all gold medals in snowboarding, to go with 17 percent of silvers and 30 percent of bronzes. (Yes, we’re pretty good at snowboarding.) Then we used those historical rates to set the baseline expectations — the expected medals — for the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.3 There is one big exception to note: The Olympic athletes from Russia use the Russian Federation’s expected-medal rates, but with a 25 percent reduction to reflect the reduced number of Russian athletes competing in the 2018 Games (plus whatever other negative effects the Russian doping scandal might have on their medal tally).
Add up all of those expected medals, and you can see where a country “should” be based on what it’s good at and what’s happened at the games so far. And the U.S. is definitely underperforming in South Korea, relative to expectations. Based on the events that have already been completed at the games, we would expect to have seen 18 American podium appearances thus far, which is exactly double the number the U.S. has actually had. From Lindsey Jacobellis’s coming up short again in boardercross to Mikaela Shiffrin’s shocking non-medal in slalom, Lindsey Vonn’s super-G struggles and Nathan Chen’s disappointing fifth-place finish in men’s figure-skating, no country is off to a rougher start in Pyeongchang than the Americans.
The good news for the U.S., however, is that there are plenty of medal events remaining in which American athletes excel. Based on its rates over the 1998-2014 period, we would expect the U.S. to pick up about 18 more medals before the games are over, which is more than any other country’s projection. Even if that happens, however, our tracker projects that the U.S. would finish a distant fourth in the final medal table — which would be its worst showing at the Winter Olympics since 1998 — but at least it would mean the second half of the games was a lot better than the first.
For Norway, this is shaping up to be its best performance at the Winter Games ever. Even though a number of their best events are over, the Norwegians should still finish strong. Indeed, if they (and everyone else) simply perform to expected baselines over the rest of the Olympics, Norway will finish first in the standings, with 34 medals, ahead of Germany and Canada.
|Gold medals||All medals|
|Olympic athletes from Russia*||0||2.7||9||16.6|