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North Korea is Winning the Olympics

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In an Olympic showdown that Jimmy Kimmel is presumably writing jokes about this very second, North Korea's An Kum-Ae beat Cuba's champion Yanet Bermoy for gold in women’s judo over the weekend. She also made North Korea the most successful nation in the current London Olympics—at least by one statistician’s measure.


One of the numbers-minded political scientists at Mischiefs of Faction, Seth Masket, argues at his personal blog today that we should measure success at the Olympics not by the gross number of gold medals a country wins—China is winning that race so far—but by the ratio of medals to athletes representing a given country.

Masket, who teaches American politics at the University of Denver
, created the graph at right, showing that while North Korea has fewer athletes at the games than countries like the US—fourth on Masket's list —the dictatorship's athletes are the most likely to win a medal when one of them is participating in an event. By comparison, Australia, a perennial powerhouse in the Games, came in last when measured this way.