Team GB could see medal haul tumble at Tokyo 2020

30 July 2019

A study from sports analytics firm Gracenote forecasts the number of medals won by British athletes will decline by 24 at the Tokyo Olympics next year. Meanwhile, the 2020 Summer Games will see a record number of women participate, lifting the gender ratio to the brink of parity.

Professional services firms have a long tradition of attempting to demonstrate their analytical prowess by calling how popular sporting events will end. Boston Consulting Group, for example, predicted Roger Federer would win Wimbledon in 2018, in the hope it would show the potential of an innovative new AI programme. Elsewhere, KPMG’s football research team suggested that the clubs with the highest operating revenue were set to monopolise the latter rounds of the 2019 Champions League, while 21st Club suggested France would triumph in the Women’s World Cup.

The unifying characteristic of the aforementioned forecasts was that they were each equally wrong. Analytics and media firm Gracenote hopes, however, that its own statistical model based on individual and team results will meet with a greater degree of success as it looks to predict the top nations at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The company’s methodology takes in the outcomes of previous Olympics Games, World Championships and World Cups to forecast the most likely gold, silver and bronze medal winners by country.

2020 Summer Games Virtual Medal Table

For UK sports enthusiasts, the most concerning news to draw from Gracenote’s estimations is that Great Britain’s medal tally is expected to drop significantly from 2016, where the team finished second. Having become the first country to win more medals four years after a home Olympics, hitting a peak of 67 medals, British athletes are expected to pick up 43 top-three finishes in 2020. While this would still see Team GB bring in enough precious metal to rank fifth in the medal table, it represents a major decline in expectations from the Rio games, particularly in cycling, track, gymnastics and rowing events, among others.

Gracenote’s analysts anticipate that Great Britain will be surpassed by the usual suspects of China in second, Russia in fourth, and by host nation Japan, who are expected to rank third. On the back of a record-breaking 41 medals at the Rio Olympics in 2016, Gracenote currently projects Japan to improve on that total by 63%, thanks to gains in all of Japan’s strongest sports and potential success in new and returning sports which hosts generally enjoy. This would be the biggest improvement by a host nation this century, with the last team to have done better being Spain at Barcelona 1992.

Aside from Japan, Australia’s team is also expected to see a major boost next Summer. With 29 medals, 2016 was Australia's lowest medal tally and lowest rank (10th) since the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, and was spoken about in the media in the same terms as a national crisis. According to Gracenote, however, the Aussies are due to bounce back and take home the same number of prizes as the British – albeit with a lower amount of gold.

As was the case in 2016, the US is expected to top the medals table by some distance. In fact, having brought home an impressive total of 120 medals last time, American athletes are predicted to up that tally to 126 in the Tokyo games. This would mark the seventh successive Summer Games during which the US team would have come out on top of the medal count competition. US medals are forecast to come from 30 different sports which would break the Olympic record of 28 set by the Soviet Union in 1980 and the US in 2016.

Gender parity

Alongside its medal predictions, Gracenote also pointed out that Tokyo will feature near gender parity in terms of sports in which both men and women compete. While there are set to be more medal events than 2016, that breaks down as a net increase of 20 women’s events, 2 men’s events, 9 mixed events and 2 open events. This means an increased proportion of women’s events at the Summer Olympics for the 10th successive edition.

According to Gracenote, the rapid incline of women’s events at Tokyo 2020 is the result of continuing efforts to create better gender equality at the Olympics. The last time the percentage of events for women did not increase was nearly 40 years ago, at the 1980 Games in Moscow. At that point, less than 25% of events were women only.

For 2020, however, the number of men’s events in boxing, canoeing and rowing has been reduced while the number of women’s events in those sports has been expanded. In addition, new Olympic sports must be balanced in terms of gender, meaning the five new sports in Tokyo all have equal numbers of men’s and women’s events. In this case, a new record percentage of female competitors will be present, surpassing the previous 45% record of Rio. In 2020, 46% of events will be women only, 48% will be male only and 6% will be either mixed or open events.

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