Economist predicts glory for US

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Projecting Olympic medal winners has become an unofficial Olympic competition in itself.

In what has become a biennial pre-Olympic event, Daniel Johnson, an economist at Colorado College, released his projections Monday with his usual caveat -- the projections, which averaged a 93 percent success rate for overall medals from 2000-2010, pay exactly zero attention to the actual athletes who are participating in the upcoming London Games.

That may be one reason he has the US beating the stuffing out of the rest of the world later this year, because results from the most recent world championships predict a much different fate.

For the purposes of his projection model, Johnson does not care whether China's Liu Xiang can beat Jason Richardson of the US in the 110-meter hurdles, or if American gymnast Jordyn Wieber can beat back China's army of tiny tumblers.

Instead, Johnson focuses on such dry, nonathletic data as a country's per capita income, population, the advantage of being the host country, if a nation has ever hosted or will soon host an Olympic Games, and what he refers to as a "cultural specific factor." That last metric gauges whether Olympic competition is deeply woven into the fabric of a country, or a priority of the ruling government.

Such national traits can make up for other demographic shortcomings, such as Australia's relatively small population, or the low per capita income of a developing nation, such as China, which has invested heavily in its national sports programs.

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"That an economic model can predict medal counts so accurately simply points to the fact that there are underlying patterns that favor certain nations over others," Johnson said in a statement attached to his projections.

Yet Johnson's model may get its stiffest test for these Olympics. His data predicts the US will win 34 gold medals and 99 overall, pasting the competition, including rising power China, which will finish with 33 gold medals and 67 overall, according to Johnson.

But judging by the results of the most recent world championships -- another highly accurate tool for predicting Olympic success -- China projects to dominate the Games as never before, winning 43 gold medals and 103 overall, tops in both categories for the first time, according to an analysis by the Italian Olympics expert Luciano Barra.

Using that metric, the US projects to come in second in both categories, with 35 gold medals, and 82 overall.

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