Data-crunchers forecast record haul for Japan at 2020 Olympics

02 August 2019 4 min. read
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Host nation Japan is on track for a record medal take at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics according to forecasts compiled by data analysis company Gracenote.

With the twelve-month countdown to next year’s Tokyo 2020 Olympics now on, Nielson-owned entertainment metadata firm Gracenote has released its latest ‘Virtual Medal Table’ – tipping host-nation Japan to back up from Rio with another record haul. According to the forecast, Japan is on track to claim around 67 medals, including 29 gold, eclipsing Germany, Russia and Great Britain to finish third overall behind only China in second place and the table-topping US.

Should the predictions come to pass, and Gracenote claims to have picked eight out of the top-ten teams at the last summer games including the top three, Japan would see a 63 percent improvement on its already record-breaking Rio performance – challenging China’s 59 percent rise in Beijing in 2008 for the highest proportional gain for a home nation since Spain’s massive 450 percent spike at the Barcelona Olympics in ’92, when it took its tally from four medals to 22.

Yet, while every host nation since (bar the US in ‘96) has increased its medal count on its previous outing, the reasons extend beyond simple home-ground advantage. “A lot of the so-called home advantage or host nation effect stems from much better results than usual in the years leading up to an Olympic Games,” notes Gracenote Sports’ head of analysis Simon Gleave, who has been with the firm and its predecessor Infostrada Sports for nearly the past twenty years.

Summer Games Virtual Medal Table

Greave continued; “This is no different for Japan, and the 67 top-3s we currently forecast are on merit based on the results over the past three years.” Indeed, already a perennial top-ten Olympic nation, Japan has consistently improved its performance since its poor showing in Beijing (where it brought home a disappointing 25 medals all up), which also happens to have coincided with the lead-up to its 2011 bid – with large increases in national sports funding a common feature prior hosting the games.

While the partial correlation between long-term sports funding and performance is reasonably clear, along with other ‘home-ground’ benefits such as a lesser travel burden and a larger contingent, climatic and cultural advantages, and a partisan supporter-base, what Gracenote’s algorithm can’t account for is the effect of expectation as it pertains to local culture – with just seven countries having hosted the event since the launch of the world wide web and Japan having last done so in 1964.

“Sometimes countries over-perform, or under-perform, and that’s not to do with our model,” Gleave stated in an interview with Associated Press. “That just happens in sport.” Still, Japan is undoubtedly well-placed to meet expectations – both courtesy of an improvement in its traditional strong suits such as badminton and judo and through a potential boost in a number of debuting events, with Japan forecast among the front-runners in the four additions of surfing, skateboarding, karate and climbing.

Elsewhere among Asian nations, South Korea, with a projected 10 gold medals and 30 in total, is currently sat in 11th on the forecast table – behind a swag of European nations and an improved Australia in 6th – while the only other Asian country within the top 30 is India, at 21st, with just a single predicted gold and tally of 14. China, although ranking 2nd behind with 81 medals, is only forecast for a marginal improvement on Rio, where its 70 medals was the lowest return since 2004.

While Gracenote’s methodology primarily takes in the outcomes of previous Olympics Games, World Championships and World Cups, other organisations have over the years attempted to factor in other economic data into their predictions, including professional services firm PwC in 2016. While its overall projections were ultimately distorted by the later exclusion of Russia’s track and field team, PwC successfully picked all of the top ten teams on the medal table.