How many medals should we win?

I believe there are 906 medals up for grabs in Beijing. That’s based on the fact that there are 302 events being competed, across 28 different sports. (The odd event, like those in Boxing, may have multiple bronze medals on offer, I guess.)

Assuming that the 11,028 athletes competing for these were indeed the best in the world, as opposed to being a skewed set of the best in the world depending on the country-based quota system in place, and assuming that someone’s chance of being an Olympic-class athlete were equal the world over, how many medals should Great Britain expect to win?

The answer is a little over eight. The UK’s population estimate as of July 2007 was 60,776,238. The world’s: 6,602,224,175. So 0.92% of people live in Britain. (Let’s assume, for the sake of analysis, that the number of British ex-pats is equal to the number of foreigners living in the UK.)

So each of the 906 medal winners has a 0.92% chance of being British. 906 * 0.92% = 8.34 medals. Or 2.8 medals of each metal. Our actual expectation is 35 medals, four times the above statistical expectation. Which itself suggests that being British quadruples your chances of sporting excellence, both in terms of the opportunities offered and the generous Olympic people quota that we receive.

Let’s see whether our medal tally is closer to the actual or statistical expectation.

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