Cognos Analytics with Watson

The women's and men's Olympics would have yielded dramatically different medal standings

By Tim Aston posted Thu September 09, 2021 05:09 PM

I really enjoyed watching the Tokyo Olympics this summer.  Not only were there many outstanding performances, but the absence of spectators made the events that much more intimate and athlete-focused. 

In terms of overall medal count, USA was once again at the top of the list, followed by China and Russia (or the Russian Olympic Committee, as they were officially referred to during the games).  The host nation Japan had a stellar performance, with an all-time high in total medals.  My home country, Canada, also had an all-time best performance.  (Source:

In the case of Canada, its impossible to ignore that most our medals came from women athletes, and from a wide variety of sports: swimming, wrestling, soccer, softball, weightlifting, rowing, and more.  Many of those sports are sports where medals from Canadian men have been rare.  Take soccer for example.  By taking the gold medal at thr Olympics, Canada is now the world champion of women's soccer.  Not traditional men's soccoer powerhouses such Brazil, nor Italy, nor the UK.  None of those countries even medalled.   Yet how has Canada done at men's soccer?  Well, we qualified for the World Cup of Soccer once, back in 1986.  Didn't score a goal though. (source:

This isn't just a Canadian phenomenon.  When we look at the data, we can see that many countries are significally stronger at either men's or women's sports.  To better understand this phenomenon, loaded medal data from into IBM Cognos Analytics.  With its web-based UI that includes data modelling, dashboarding, and all the features you need in one place, it was the obvious tool to use for my analysis.

Delving into the women's and men's medal standings seperately, we see that amongst the top medal-winning nations, not a lot of gender difference.  But as you move down the list a little, Canada jumps way up the standings from 11th total to 8th in women's medals, whereas Hungary makes a move in the opposite direction 13th in total medals, only 24th in women's medals. 

A better way to view this is to look at what the proportion of each country's total medals were won by women.  This required adding some new calculated fields in the data modelling.  Here are the top  countries, based on percentage of that countries total medals won by women.  The height of the bar is the proportion of medals won by women, and the width is the total number of medals.

But why do these differences exist?  Are there perhaps some socio-economic factors at play.  Let's once again look at the date for answers.  Pulling in some data from the OECD and joining it with the medal data is quite startling.  Amongst the countries where 50% or more of their medals are from women, the average household income annual growth rate is double that of countries where less than half the medals came from women.: 3.5% compared to 1.7%. (source:

So countries in which household income is increasing are producing more women medalists at the Olympics.

This data strongly suggests that there is a link between a country's economic status and the access to sports for women and girls.  Clearly there is still much more work to be done to improve access and create a level playing field across the globe.   In Tokyo, we saw many outstanding sporting moments by the women athletes, and we can all look forward to a day when women athletes world-wide will be 100% represented at the Olympics.