Rigorous ex-post evaluation finds no evidence that Olympics produces Olympic medals

Using data conveniently available from the Peruvian, Ecuadorean, Bolivian, and Chilean Olympic trials, the study compared athletes who just made the Olympic team with those who just fell short. This rigorous regression discontinuity design allowed the study to identify the effect of Olympic participation on Olympic medals. The study found on average zero effect of Olympic participation on Olympic medals. This study found no evidence that the Olympics produces Olympic medals.

It is hoped that national sports federations will follow more evidence-based policies in the future regarding the Olympics.

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Lessons from The Development Olympics


UPDATE noon 8/11/12: A devastating rebuttal to this post notes that if you limit the medal count to gold and change the indicator to the Human Development Index, there is no correlation. I have no idea what the point of this is. Researchers devote vast effort to the central question in economic development: "what determines Olympic medals?" The answer is income per capita and population, or in other words total GDP. The following table shows this story fits pretty well.

However, the outliers are interesting.

The big underachievers are (in order of underachievement) India, Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia.

The big overachievers are Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan,  Romania, Iran, , and Jamaica.

The lessons seem to be:

(1) World Bank national development strategies in key emerging markets have failed miserably in the Olympics sector.

(2) a history of Communism may not have been so awesome for development and liberty, but it's still amazing for Olympic medals.

(3) Islamist ideology is a mixed medal producer (Saudi Arabia no, Iran yes).

(4) if nothing else works, just run really fast.

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