Dan Johnson’s Olympic predictions making media waves

Dan Johnson, CC associate professor of economics, is making waves in the media world with his Olympic medals predictions. Television stations, newspapers, and blogs around the world are picking up his predictions, which were released January 18. Within 36 hours, he was featured in Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/2010/01/19/olympic-medal-predictions-business-sports-medals.html; on Canadian television: http://www.cbc.ca/video/#/News/TV_Shows/The_National/ID=1390655465;
in the Toronto Sun: http://www.torontosun.com/sports/vancouver2010/news/2010/01/19/12531926.html; on a Reuters blog: http://blogs.reuters.com/sport/2010/01/22/economic-model-sees-winter-olympics-gold-for-canada/; in an Italian newspaper (link not available); and cited in an on-air report by Bloomberg.
Johnson uses only non-athletic data to make his forecasts. He considers per capita income, population, climate, and political structure of the nations competing, along with the obvious advantage of hosting the Games. This last factor works heavily in Canada’s favor this year, putting them one medal ahead of the United States and Norway in the model’s predictions.
As a Canadian-born economist, that prediction warms Johnson’s heart, but he insists that the results are pure statistics.
Johnson first constructed the model with a colleague before the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia. Since then, the model has proven itself over five consecutive Olympics, averaging a correlation of 94 percent with actual medal counts, and 87 percent for gold medals specifically.
The big story this year, from Johnson’s perspective is that Canada should win three more medals than it won in Torino in 2006, due primarily to its home-field advantage. Canada is predicted to narrowly edge out the U.S., Norway, Austria, Sweden, Russia, and Germany for the title. However, Russia is predicted to win the race for gold medals, edging out Germany and winning three more than Canada or the U.S.
Why does he do it? Johnson says that he treats the model’s predictions as ‘benchmarks’ to help set national expectations at realistic levels. “We all subconsciously know,” he says, “that small, poor, warm nations are at a disadvantage when it comes to the Winter Games. Our model quantifies those effects, so that each nation can celebrate victory if they exceed the model’s predictions. For a small nation, winning three medals is an amazing accomplishment. For the U.S. or Germany or Russia, it’s appropriate to expect a lot more.”
This year, Johnson decided to publicly report only the predictions for nations that are expected to win 10 or more medals. “We can all celebrate with the nations not on the list, every time that they win a medal,” he says.

Accuracy rate of Johnson’s predictions for total medals won by a country:
2008 Beijing Summer Games: 93 percent
2006 Torino Winter Games: 93 percent
2004 Athens Summer Games: 94 percent
2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games: 94 percent
2000 Sydney Summer Games: 95 percent

Accuracy rate of Johnson’s predictions for gold medals won by a country:
2008 Beijing Summer Games: 92 percent
2006 Torino Winter Games: 89 percent
2004 Athens Summer Games: 86 percent
2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games: 85 percent
2000 Sydney Summer Games: 84 percent
A complete news release with Johnson’s predictions can be seen at: http://www.coloradocollege.edu/news_events/releases/2010/Jan.%2010/Olympic%20predictions.asp