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Average number of medals won per capita in the Summer Olympics 1896-2016

Although the United States lead the all-time Summer Olympics medal table, and the Soviet Union have the highest average medal tally per event, it is Finland who has the highest medal count per capita. With a combined total of 303 Olympic medals, and a population of 5.54 million people in 2020, this means that Finland has won almost 55 medals per one million inhabitants. Finland has participated and won medals in every Summer Olympics since 1908, and dominated several athletics and wrestling events in the first half of the twentieth century. Although Finland's medal count has generally been in decline since the 1950s, the legacy left by athletes such as Paavo Nurmi, Heikki Savolainen and Ville Ritola has kept Finland at the top of this list.

Olympic tradition and lower populations in the top ten

With 491 total medals, Hungary is the most successful nation never to have hosted the Summer Olympics. Unlike Finland, Hungary's medal haul has been consistently high throughout Olympic history, and they are currently eighth in the overall medal table. Hungary has won a large proportion of its medals in fencing, swimming and canoeing events, and is top of the overall table in pentathlon and water polo events. When it comes to medals per capita, Hungary is in second place, with just under 51 medals per one million inhabitants. Interestingly, the Bahamas is fourth in this list, despite only having won 14 medals overall; this is because the Bahamas has a population below 400,000 people, with brings their medal per capita total up to 36 medals per one million people. Other countries such as Estonia and Grenada have low medal counts, but are also bolstered by their relatively low populations.

US, Soviet Union and China fall behind

As mentioned previously, countries who have won the most medals overall do not have always the highest per-capita totals. For example, China has the fourth-most gold medals of all time, but, as China has the highest population in the world, this translates to just 0.16 golds per million people. The US has won a total of 3 golds and 7.6 total medals per million people, while the Soviet Union had won fewer than four medals per million people, based on its population in 1990.

Average number of medals won per capita at the Summer Olympics from 1896 to 2016

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Sources

Release date

March 2020

Region

Worldwide

Survey time period

1896 to 2020

Supplementary notes

This data was collected using the official Olympic.org site, as well as a spreadsheet from the Guardian that includes data from 1896-2008 (available here), 2012 and 2016 data was compared with that from Encyclopaedia Britannica, and several news outlets were used to update the table when medals were reassigned (i.e. for doping offenses).

*The population data used in the calculations comes from United Nations estimates for the year 2020, apart from the following countries:
Soviet Union - 290.938 million (1990)
East Germany - 16.11 million (1990)
West Germany - 63.25 million (1990)
Yugoslavia - 23.23 million (1991)
Czechoslovakia - 15.6 million (1993)

**Includes medals from the Unified Team in the 1992 Olympics; made up of all athletes from former-Soviet countries, excluding the Baltic States. Does not include medals won by Russia or the Russian Empire.

***Includes medals from the united German teams of the 1956, 1960 and 1964 Olympics, but does not include medals from East Germany or West Germany, whose medals are included in separate entries.

****Medals won by athletes representing Australasia in the 1908 and 1912 Olympics have been redistributed to the athletes' respective country. The gold medal won in the men's 4x200m freestyle relay has been included in both totals, as the team involved athletes from both countries.

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Statistics on "History of the Summer Olympics"

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