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12x gold, 11x silver and 11x bronze. If that is the medal tally for the Netherlands at the Tokyo Olympics, Fabian ten Kate and Elmer Sterken from the Dutch University of Groningen (RUG) both have a finely tuned antenna. The two economists from RUG have tried to predict the medal count using an econometric model. The Netherlands comes out of this as one of the high flyers in Japan. In the overall rankings, according to the RUG model, the Netherlands would finish sixth, an absolute record. The highest number of medals so far was back in 2000 (Sydney) with 12x gold, 9x silver and 4x bronze.

RUG has been making its predictions since the 2002 Games. The model is fine-tuned a little more each time. The most important inputs this time are the home advantage and the number of gold, silver and bronze medals won at world championships across the various disciplines – this time a record of 339.

“First, in the process, we calibrate the model by factoring in the medal success for each medal color at the 2016 Olympics, and then we estimate the Olympic medal success in Tokyo out of the world championship results for the 339 different disciplines in recent years,” the economists said in a piece for the journal Economic Statistical Reports.

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    Rio

    According to Sterken and Ten Kate, the model is an improvement over the model for the 2016 Games because it contains more relevant information. “Then we based our predictions on the relative development of real income per capita and numbers of participants per country. However, the fact is that this information is also already contained in the various World Championship results.”

    At the previous Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro (2016), the medal count for the Netherlands was projected to be 8x gold, 9x silver and 7x bronze and a 12th place in the final rankings. It ended up being 8x gold, 7 silver and 4x bronze. A serious disadvantage for the modellers in Rio was that due to the doping affair, Russia only took part with a very small team. This fact could not be taken into account in the model.

    Top 5

    According to the RUG model, the Netherlands is now likely to gain a fantastic sixth place, ahead of major countries such as Germany, France and Australia. The top 5 in the RUG model is made up of the US (127 medals of which 47 are gold), China, Japan, Russia and the UK respectively.

    Of course, the RUG is not the only party making predictions about Olympic medals. A very extensive prediction for all medals came today from the Associated Press, for one thing. Bookmakers are also always very active in this area. They see the US as the favorite to win the medal ranking ahead of China. The rest of their top 10 comprises: Japan, the Russian team, the UK, Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany and ex aequo France and South Korea.

    2021 Medal predictions for Tokyo per country

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    Covid-19 makes predictions difficult

    One of the big problems with all of these predictions – including those from the Groningen group – is that due to Covid-19, there is a great deal of uncertainty about the preparation and fitness levels of athletes. How have they been able to train in the past year? That can be very different for an athlete from China than one from Ethiopia. Also, the qualification process was completely different from previous Olympics. And then there is the uncertainty about potential corona outbreaks during the competitions. The first cases are known already.

    Because of all of these uncertainties, Japan today went back on its previously stated prediction of 30 gold medals (the RUG model assumes 24). “As to whether it is important for us to get 30 gold medals, I would prefer to say, no,” said the chair of the Japanese Olympic Committee Yasuhiro Yamashita. According to him, it is much more important that everyone stays healthy and is able to perform their respective sports as well as possible.

    Van de Hoogeband

    Japan only managed to win 12 gold medals in Rio, but the hope is that the home advantage (even without spectators) will work in favor of the Japanese. As mentioned, this is also important in the RUG model, and by the way, not only for Japan. France, where the next Olympic Games will be held, could also benefit from this now already.

    Our own Head of Mission, Pieter van de Hoogeband, does not want to issue any projections (and rightly so). “I’m hoping for three,” he said with a wink before leaving for Japan.

    That sports predictions are tricky was proven earlier this year during the European Football Championships when scientists from several universities tipped France. A pity, but alas, it turned out to be Italy.

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    About the author

    Author profile picture Maurits Kuypers graduated as a macroeconomist from the University of Amsterdam, specialising in international work. He has been active as a journalist since 1997, first for 10 years on the editorial staff of Het Financieele Dagblad in Amsterdam, then as a freelance correspondent in Berlin and Central Europe. When it comes to technological innovations, he always has an eye for the financial feasibility of a project.