The summer Olympic games is the world's biggest festival of sports. It is held every 4 years. The modern Olympics dates back to 1896 but the games traces their origin to the ancient Olympics held in Greece. This page looks at the how summer Olympic medals have been distributed by world region from 1988 - 2016 in different sports as well as the population adjusted number of medals for a selection of the most successful countries in the history of the summer Olympics.
1. Olympic Medals Per Million Inhabitants 1952 - 1976, 1988 (Germany, UK, USA, USSR, West Germany)
2. Olympic Medals Per Million Inhabitants 1968 - 1976, 1988 (East Germany, UK, USA, USSR, West Germany)
3. Olympic Medals Per Million Inhabitants 1992 - 2016 (Germany, UK, USA, CIS / Russia)
4. Summer Olympic Medals by World Region 1988 - 2016
5. Olympic Medals for Athletics by World Region 1988 - 2016
6. Olympic Medals for Cycling by World Region Cycling 1988 - 2016
7. Olympic Medals for Gymnastics by World Region 1988 - 2016
8. Olympic Medals for Swimming by World Region 1988 - 2016
9. Olympic Medals for Wrestling by World Region 1988 - 2016
10. Olympic Medals for Boxing by World Region 1988 - 2016
11. Olympic Medals for Canoeing by World Region 1988 - 2016
12. Olympic Medals for Equestrian by World Region 1988 - 2016
13. Olympic Medals for Fencing by World Region 1988 - 2016
14. Olympic Medals for Judo by World Region 1988 - 2016
15. Olympic Medals for Sailing by World Region 1988 - 2016
16. Olympic Medals for Rowing by World Region 1988 - 2016
17. Olympic Medals for Shooting by World Region 1988 - 2016
18. Olympic Medals for Taekwondo by World Region 2000 - 2016
19. Olympic Medals for Weightlifting by World Region 1988 - 2016
Athletics is the main sport in the summer Olympics. The opening ceremony takes place in the athletics stadium. Eastern Europe has seen a decline since 1988, as has western Europe. The most notable increase is from Latin America and the Caribbean. This primarily driven by the Caribbean including Jamaican sprinters such as Usain Bolt, the world record holder in the 100 meter and 200 meter sprint. Sub-Saharan Africa has shown steady and consistent growth. North America has remained one of the dominant regions unlike eastern Europe and western Europe. This region has tended to win a larger proportion of gold medals compared to total medals. The heavily populated Asian regions have had limited success in Athletics.
Cycling has been dominated by western Europe across the period. France, which is the most successful Olympic cycling nation of all time, led the gold medal tally in 1996 and 2000. They were particularly dominant at the 96 Atlanta games. At the last 3 Olympics, Great Britain have been by far the dominant country in cycling. Australia had a particularly good performance at the 2004 Athens games winning 6 out of 18 gold medals. The Soviet Union had a great performance in 1988 winning 4 out of 9 gold medals. The performance of Russia and the other Soviet successor states dropped markedly in the 92 Olympics and the 1988 performance has yet to be replicated since.
From 1988 to 2004, eastern Europe was by far the dominant region in gymnastics. It was mainly the Soviet Union in 1988 and Russia afterwards but certainly not limited to them. Romania was particularly strong up until 2004 where they topped the gold medal table. However they have had a sharp decline since and didn't win a single medal at the recent 2 Olympics. Russia has remained a competitive nation in gymnastics but far from as dominant as they once were. The decline in eastern European gymnastics has coincided with a rise in gymnasts from northeast Asia led by China. This trend emerged in the 2008 Beijing games where China won most gold medals. However there was a notable dip in northeast Asian, especially Chinese, success in the most recent Olympics. American gymnasts have also emerged as a force in the 21st century. This was particularly true in the last 2 Olympics.
As with most sports, eastern Europe has seen a decline in Olympic performance. North America has emerged as the dominant region in swimming, led by American swimmer Michael Phelps. Western Europe has also seen a decline in performance. Australia seen a rise then fall over the period. Northeast Asia has seen a rise too though still remains well behind western regions, especially after adjusting for population size. Developing regions generally have limited success in Olympic swimming events. It's a sport that requires an expensive domestic infrastructure to develop Olympic level swimmers.
In wresting, compared to other sports, the strong performance of eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in 1988 has been maintained to the present time by successor states. They remain the strongest region in Olympic wrestling. The central Asian and Caucasus countries account for a high proportion of former Soviet total medals particularly at the last 3 games which explains the rise shown on the graph although Russia accounts for the vast majority of gold medals won by former Soviet states after 1988. The middle east and north Africa region has far more success in wrestling compared to other sports, mainly driven by wrestlers from Iran and Turkey. Cuba has been very successful in wrestling for it's size. It accounts for virtually all the medals for the Latin America & Caribbean region shown in yellow. Japan has emerged as a strong wrestling nation in the 21st century, accounting for most medals in the northeast Asia region in all of the last 4 games, replacing South Korea as the dominant Asian wrestling nation.
American boxers have declined in Olympic boxing medals. The USA has the most Olympic boxing medals of all time with 114 including 50 gold medals. The currently strongest region is eastern Europe & former Soviet region who peaked in 2000. Latin America & Caribbean region has been relatively well represented over the period, mainly by Cuba. Cuba is the best performing country over the period and it's the 2nd all time highest number of Olympic boxing medals of all time with 73 medals including 37 gold medals. This is extremely impressive given it's small population. It literally punches above it's weight. It's worth noting that Cuba boycotted the 1988 Olympics which is reflected in the chart. Western Europe seen a decline similar to North America although in the last 3 games, western European boxing rose to earlier levels with British boxers such as Anthony Joshua leading the way.
Canoeing is overwhelmingly a European pursuit. Medals over this period have been fairly evenly split between western and eastern Europe. Germany in consistently the best performing country in canoeing, topping the medal table in all games in the period. It was East Germany rather than West Germany who was the stronger canoeing country prior to reunification. East Germany is the root of Germany's canoeing success. Hungary is the 2nd most successful country of all time and in the period shown. After Germany, it's generally eastern European countries who win most medals.
Equestrian has been almost exclusively dominated by western regions. Oceania, namely Australia, has seen a fall in performance in the 21st century compared to the 1990s when this small region was strongly represented. North America has performed better in the 21st century than in the 90s although failed to win a single medal in 2012.
In 1988 and the 1990s, Olympic fencing was completely dominated by European regions. France and Italy are by far the all time most successful Olympic fencing countries and were strong performers for most of the period shown. However, France failed to win a medal in 2012 for the first time since 1960 and for the first time since 1976, neither Italy nor France were in the top 2 in the total medal table. This is reflected by the overall decline in western European medals in recent games.
Eastern Europe which also seen a drop had their best performance in the most recent games with Russia and Hungary the 2 best performing nations at the games.
As with other combat sports, the small Latin American region of Cuba performed quite well for their size although recently their performance has declined. Northeast Asia and North America have become competitive fencing regions in the 21st century. South Korea was notable medal winner in 2012 adding to China's regular presence in the medal table.
Judo, a Japanese martial arts discipline, is unsurprisingly dominated by Japan. Japan has by far the most medals of all time and in the period shown. South Korea is also a strong performer from the Northeast Asian region. The small Latin American country of Cuba performs well for its size. The is consistent with it's strong performance in a diverse range of combat sports at the Olympics. Western Europe has seen a moderate decline in the 21st century. Despite this, France was the 2nd best performing nation at the last 2 Olympics. France is also the 2nd best all time in Olympic judo. The former Soviet states have seen a steady rise in performance this century after a poor showing in 1996.
Rowing has a somewhat similar regional and national profile as canoeing, both being similar sports. Western Europe is the dominant region for rowing. North America and Oceania do better in rowing than canoeing while Eastern Europe & Former Soviet region does less well though it's still the 2nd best region.
Sailing has been dominated by the western regions. Oceania is well represented for it's size with New Zealand being similarly successful as it's bigger neighbor Australia. North America has decline dramatically after strong performance in 1988 and 1992. Great Britain has come to dominate the sport from 2000 to present.
Eastern Europe & Former Soviet have declined in shooting. Northeast Asia has steadily improved. China surpassed Russia as the leading nation in shooting in the 2000s although their performance dropped in the last 2 games. The USA is the most successful country of all time in Olympic shooting though this predates the end of the cold war and they have had less success in shooting over the period shown compared to their prior performance.
Taekwondo began in 2000. Being a Korean martial art, it's unsurprising that South Korea is the most successful nation. They are followed by China. The dominance of the Asia countries has decline since it started in 2000. It has become more evenly distributed across the many nations and regions of the world than any other sport. The 144 medals have been divided between 38 nations. It is truly a global sport attracting competitors from countries not traditionally successful in Olympics.
Southeast Asia has become relatively successful in weightlifting compared to other sports with Thailand standing out. Eastern Europe & Former Soviet has declined since dominating the event in 1988 and 1992 although it still does well. as has western Europe. Northeast Asian has steadily improved. China has topped the medal table in each of the last 5 games. Notably, North Korea does better than South Korea which is quite rare for Olympic sports. Middle east also does better than in most other sports with Iran being well represented. Turkey also does well.