Grade Britain

The performance of the British team

Full print version, including charts and tables

The Olympic Charter states that the Olympic Games are competitions between athletes and not between countries, and even goes so far as to prohibit the IOC from producing an official ranking of countries’ performance.

But for the rest of us, the temptation to rank nations by their sporting prowess is irresistible.

Britain is the only country to have won at least one gold medal at each of the summer Olympic Games. This feat would almost certainly have been matched by the USA had they not boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games. In total, the UK has won 207 golds since the first modern Olympics in 1896, the fourth-highest number, with the USA, Russia/USSR and Germany having greater gold and overall medal hauls. The British Olympic Association has described fourth place in the medals table for London 2012 as an ‘aspirational’ target.

Britain has topped the Olympic Games medal table only once, as host nation at the 1908 Games. On this occasion, it scooped 56 golds, over half of the total, a feat that has never been matched anywhere since. It has not come close to winning such a high proportion or number of gold medals since, although the performance in Beijing was its most impressive for many decades: 19 golds
were won. This was:

The highest proportion of golds (6%) since 1924
The highest per 10m population (3.1) since 1920
The highest per £100bn GDP since 1952

Following Great Britain’s success in Beijing on the cycling track and in rowing and sailing, sections of the foreign (Australian) media suggested that Britons could win Olympic golds only in sedentary events. At least in relation to Beijing, they had a point: 15 of the 19 successes were in such events. Of all Great Britain’s gold medals in the previous Games, one-third were won ‘sitting down’.

Gold diggers
The chart shows gold medals won by the UK per 10m population at each summer Olympics since 1900.

 The chart shows gold medals won by GBR per 10m population

Related information

Olympic Britain

Find out more about the sources used in the Olympic Britain book


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