Professor Klaus Nielsen, of Sport Business Centre at Birbeck college, University of London, has been working with Danish researchers to develop a model for predicting the number of medals that countries will win at this summer's Olympic Games, and it has delivered some surprising results.
Most predictions put the USA at the top of the tables, with the focus being on performance at previous Olympic Games, on factors such as Gross Domestic Product per capita, size of population and home country advantage, or on expert opinion.
However, Professor Nielsen and his colleagues looked at the results from the most recent world championships in July 2012 in all of the Olympic disciplines, supplemented with current world rankings and have predicted that China will most likely be the best nation in terms of gold medals, and total medals.
Although China topped the medal table in terms of number of gold medals at Beijing in 2008, they were surpassed by the USA in the overall number of medals, and in the more important top-8 points ranking (which awards countries 8 points for a gold, 7 for silver down to one point for an eighth place finalist).
Professor Nielsen explains, ''The number of top-8 points is a more reliable indicator of broad-based elite sport excellence than the medal table and the total number of medals. This is particularly so for smaller nations, where medal achievements may reflect the presence of one or two top performers and are highly dependent on marginal differences in performance, which may be a poor indicator of the general performance level.''
However, looking at the top-8 points, the USA's lead over China has been steadily decreasing: from 360 points in 2004 to just 32 at the most recent world championships.
Professor Nielsen explains, ''This evidence indicates that a major shift of power is on its way. China seems to be on its way to becoming the undisputed best nation in Olympic Summer Games independent of which performance measure is used.''
Britain's Olympic chances
Great Britain and Northern Ireland is expected to win more than 20 gold medals and 60 medals in total and will end as a clear number four in relation to gold medals, number of medals and top-8 points. After Beijing, where Britain also finished in fourth place, British sport officials considered it almost impossible to maintain this position, even with home advantage. However, at the most recent world championships, Team GB gave their best ever performance in terms of top-8 points, so Professor Nielsen is confident this can be maintained, if not improved.
- France will probably become the sixth best nation in London both in terms of number of medals and top-8 points. In Beijing they were only number 10 on the medal table because of a low number of gold medals (7). At the latest world championships, France won a total of 13 gold medals.
- The results from the latest world championships indicate that Japan's performance in London, i.e. its medal tally and its top-8 points, will be the highest ever. The results indicate that Japan will experience its most successful Olympic Summer Games since 1936, apart from the 1964 Games at home in Tokyo.
- Cuba will experience deteriorating performance levels and experience a significant drop in competitiveness compared to previous Olympic Games. Cuba has been an overachiever in Olympic Games ever since 1972, but has experienced a sharp decline in terms of medals and top places. At the last five Olympic Games, Cuba has won from 24 to 31 medals and the range of top-8 points is from 328 as the highest to 245 as the lowest. However, Cuba won only 13 gold medals and totalled only 146 top-8 points at the latest world championships in the Olympic disciplines.
- New Zealand has experienced significant progress recently and the small country from the Southern Hemisphere may become the big success story of London 2012. At the latest world championships, New Zealand won 20 medals (6 gold, 4 silver and 10 bronze) and 183 top-8 points. This is a huge improvement compared to 2008 (9 medals, 123 points), and the 2008 Games was one of the most successful Games in New Zealand's history.
- Other countries can be expected to progress significantly in London. Prominent examples are oil rich Azerbaijan and Iran.
- India will also progress. There are Indian medal contenders in sports such as archery, badminton, boxing, shooting, tennis and wrestling.
- Among the Nordic European countries, Denmark and Norway will do better than the others whereas Sweden and, in particular, Finland are falling further behind.