Many econometric analyses have attempted to model medal winnings as dependent on per capita GDP and population size. This approach ignores the size and composition of the team of athletes, especially the role of female participation and the role of sports culture, and also provides an inadequate explanation of the variability between the outcomes of countries with similar features. This paper proposes a model that offers two substantive advancements, both of which shed light on previously hidden aspects of Olympic success. First, we propose a selection model that treats the process of fielding any winner and the subsequent level of total
winnings as two separate, but related, processes. Second, our model takes a more structural angle, in that we view GDP and population size as inputs into the “production” of athletes. After that production process, those athletes then compete to win medals. We use country-level panel data for the seven Summer Olympiads from 1988 to 2012. The size and composition of the country’s Olympic team are shown to be highly significant factors, as is also the past performance, which generates a persistence effect.
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