Mar 4, 2020 | Historical Data
Total number of medals won in the Summer Olympics per country and by color 1896-2016
In the history of the Summer Olympics, the United States has been the most successful nation ever, with a combined total of more than 2,500 medals in 27 Olympic Games. More than one thousand of these were gold, with almost 800 silver and over 700 bronze. The second most successful team in Summer Olympic history was the Soviet Union**, who took home 440 golds and more than 1,100 total medals in ten Olympic Games between 1952 and 1992. When the total medal hauls of the Soviet Union, Russia and the Russian Empire are combined, they still fall short of the US' tally by almost one thousand medals. The third most successful Olympic team is that of Great Britain, who have participated in all 28 Olympic Games since 1896, and have taken home 851 medals, 263 of which were gold. China are in fourth place with more than 220 gold medals, but when all of the medals won by German athletes are combined they total at 428 golds and almost 1,350 overall.
While European and Anglophone nations have traditionally dominated the medals tables, recent decades have seen the emergence and increased participation from athletes representing developing nations, such as Kenya, Jamaica, and particularly China. Although China has competed in just ten Summer Olympics, they have the fourth most gold medals across a variety of events, despite only developing a significant Olympic presence in the 1980s. Athletes from African and Caribbean nations have also developed a more formidable presence since this time, by focusing their resources on specific sports; for example, Kenyan athletes have established a lasting legacy in distance running events, while Jamaicans have dominated sprinting events in recent years. Despite this increased investment, the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games saw a record number of African-born athletes representing high-income countries in the Arabian Gulf; most notably, athletes born in Kenya and Ethiopia competing for Bahrain.
The influence of money, politics and drugs
As mentioned above, European and Anglophone countries have dominated the medals tables in the past; this is because they had the financial resources to send athletes around the world to compete, and, until 1964, the host cities were always in these countries, which cause financial and logistical difficulties for African, Asian and Latin American countries. Financial difficulties have caused some countries to refuse invitations to the Olympics as recently as the 1980s, for example, many African and Latin American countries joined in the US-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games (due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan), saving face by citing the boycott and not financial problems as the reason. This boycott also contributed to the Soviet Union and East Germany's high medal tally, as both nations took over sixty percent of all available gold medals. In retaliation, the Soviet Union led a boycott of the following Games in Los Angeles, opening the way for the United States to win almost half of all available golds in 1984.
Recent years have seen doping scandals replace financial and political factors as the main external-influence on the medals table. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was founded by the International Olympic Committee in 1999, to combat the increasing use of performance-enhancing substances in sports. Since then it has had a major impact on the Olympic medal table, and has helped rescind and redistribute more than one hundred Olympic medals. Athletes from Russia and former-Soviet countries have been particularly affected by these measures, which follows a legacy of state-sponsored doping programs dating back to the 1980s. In 2019, WADA banning all Russian athletes from the 2020 Games in Tokyo due to yet another state-sponsored doping scandal; athletes from Russia may only compete if they have been cleared by WADA prior to the games, and they must compete under a neutral flag.