It's a relic of the Cold War era, when the U.S.-USSR were always out to one-up and undercut each other. There is still an Olympic arms race and China still treats the Games as a chance to flex its muscle, but really, it's generally accepted the medal table is just a reflection of a country's affluence and population base. So how's the leader of real medal table?
It turns out Slovenia is the true leader by medalspercapita.com's reckoning.
What is perhaps more compelling are the nations that carry their weight in medals, like Slovenia. The Slovenes have won four medals: gold in judo, silver in track and field and bronze in rowing and shooting. With a population of 2.06 million people, that works out to one medal per 514,385 residents, the best per-capita medal rate among the 59 countries that have won at least one medal through Sunday.
New Zealand (seven medals, or one per 633,231 residents), Jamaica (four medals, or one per 676,456 residents) and Denmark and Australia round out the top five. (The New York Times)
What's the Slovenian edge, at least one that can be envisioned by skimming the country's wiki? It is a mostly hilly and mountainous country, which probably gives people more avenues to be active. Whatever the reasons, Slovenia is well-represented in individual sports, particularly the endurance variety.
To put in perspective, Canada would have win 68 medals in London 2012 to match Slovenia. That probably is not happening.
For what it is worth, Australia, which is just beside itself about its showing, was still sixth in medals per capita through Monday. Canada is 29th, with the U.S. and their referee-aided women's soccer team 40th. So there's that.
Obviously, dividing a country's estimated population by its medals doesn't say it all. It leaves out the amount of support (per capita, again) that each nation devotes to sports. The Huffington Post is maintaining a weighted medal count that factors in gross domestic product.
No doubt some University of Waterloo or CalTech math major at this very moment is trying to work out the ultimate theory to determine the most proficient Olympic nation. Other people just like to watch the events.
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Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.