Does host country get a boost?

From the headlines here in London, there is no doubt host-country Great Britain is having its most amazing Olympics ever. "Super Saturday" was followed by "Smashing Sunday." The newspapers are prepping readers for more glory to come.

It’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement. When Sebastian Coe, chairman of the Olympic committee and a four-time gold medalist for Great Britain, said Saturday’s performances in Olympic Stadium were the greatest day of sports he has witnessed, you really couldn’t argue.

You might wonder, though, is there home-field advantage? Does a nation somehow get a boost to its medals count when it hosts the Games?

Yes and no, according to data pulled from Actuate.

Hosting hasn’t helped countries overcome the dominance of a trio of nations and vault to the top of the leaderboard. The United States, Russia (the former Soviet Union) and Germany have won the most medals in 21 of the past 24 Summer Olympics. Other countries have hosted the Games 18 of those times.

The closest any nation came to unseating one of the traditional powerhouses while also hosting the games was China in 2008. That nation’s 100 medals was a close second to the USA’s 110. But China did earn the most gold (51 vs. 36 for the US).

That’s where the math gets interesting.

In the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, China brought home 32 gold medals. Four years later, as hosts, the 51 golds they won was a 38 percent increase over their Athens performance. Greece, the hosts of those 2004 games, tallied 16 medals total, a 19 percent hike in medals from the 2000 Games in Sydney. Australia had 16 gold in Sydney (58 total) in 2000, a 44 percent increase over the Atlanta Games of 1996. The U.S. won 44 gold in Atlanta, a 16 percent increase over the Barcelona Games four years prior.

And so on and so on and so on.

So, what about our hosts this year? Are they following the trend? Yes, and then some! Great Britain won 19 gold in Beijing (47 medals total). With a week left in London, they already have 16 gold (37 total). They are on pace to claim 28 gold medals, representing a 33 percent improvement over four years ago.

Team GB should take note, though: Teams mentioned above all came back down a little closer to Earth at the Games following those they hosted.

Australia took home nine fewer medals in Athens than in Sydney four years earlier. Greece went on to win 19 percent fewer medals in Sydney than in Athens. The U.S. ended up with 16 percent fewer gold medals, seven fewer total medals in Sydney than they managed in Atlanta.

China, however, appears to be bucking the trend. So far in London they have averaged three golds a day (six total medals a day). In Beijing, the Chinese Olympians averaged the exact same pace.


Graphic data provided by Actuate.