For help with a story or to find an expert: 0114 225 2811

How Russia's London 2012 medal tally would be reallocated

Media centre home > Find an expert> Olympics> How Russia's London 2012 medal tally would be reallocated

Published: 28/07/16

With the IOC confirming the ban on Russian track and field athletes taking part in the Rio Olympics following the revelations of the McLaren report, we ask the question 'what difference will it make to the distribution of medals?' The simple answer is that we don't know.  However, we can gain some insight by looking at what would happen if all of Russia's medals in athletics from London 2012 were awarded to the next best placed nations.  Athletics is the blue riband sport in the Olympic Games with 47 events contested out of a total of 302 at London 2012.  Athletics is also Russia's most successful sport with 18 medals won (8 gold, 5 silver and 5 bronze) out of the nation's total haul of 82.  Prior to McLaren there was already evidence of Russian athletes doping with four athletes stripped of their medals: Sergey Kirdyapkin (gold) in the men's 50km walk; Yuliya Zaripova (gold) in the 3,000m steeplechase;  Olga Kaniskina (silver) in the women's 20km walk; and, Darya Pishchalnikova (silver) in the women's discus.  However, if all of Russia's medals in athletics were reallocated, the full impact of this decision would be wide ranging as shown in Table 1.

Table 1: How Russia's medals in athletics would be reallocated[1]

Nation

Gold

Silver

Bronze

Total

Russia

-8

-5

-5

-18

United States

3

-2

1

2

China

1

4

-1

4

Australia

1

-1

0

0

Poland

1

-1

0

0

South Africa

1

-1

0

0

Tunisia

1

-1

0

0

Kenya

0

1

2

3

Germany

0

1

0

1

Jamaica

0

1

0

1

Spain

0

1

0

1

Canada

0

1

-1

0

Czech Republic

0

1

-1

0

Ethiopia

0

1

-1

0

Great Britain

0

1

-1

0

Qatar

0

1

-1

0

Ukraine

0

0

2

2

Belgium

0

0

1

1

Cuba

0

0

1

1

Ireland

0

0

1

1

Latvia

0

0

1

1

Grand Total

8

7

3

18

[1]In practice, our reallocation of medals does not quite add up to 8 gold, 5 silver and 5 bronze medals.  This is because there was a three-way tie for bronze in the men's high jump, which would in turn elevate Canada, Great Britain, and Qatar to silver (5+2=7).  Under these circumstances no bronze medal would be awarded.  However for completeness and to reconcile to the 18 medals Russia would lose, we have awarded the bronze medal in the high jump to James Nieto of the USA who was effectively 5th (5-2=3)

Only four new nations would be brought into the athletics table, Belgium, Ireland, Latvia and Cuba who gain one bronze medal each.  In the case of Ireland, Robert Heffernan has actually been awarded his bronze medal for the 50km walk and increased his nation's tally from five to six medals.  The remaining 14 medals won by Russia would be redistributed amongst nations which had already won medals in athletics. 

Prime amongst the beneficiaries is the USA who would have three more gold medals and one more bronze medal at the expense of two silver medals.  The main impact on the USA therefore is an increase in the quality of medals won and further confirmation of that nation's dominance in athletics.  China, by contrast, would have won one more gold and four more silver medals at the expense of one bronze to have an overall tally of 10 medals.  This is a gain in both quantity and quality of medals won.  These adjustments would have made China just one of four nations to have achieved 10 or more medals in athletics alongside USA (30), Kenya (14) and Jamaica (13).  For China, this would be considerable vindication of its desire to achieve success in 'Project 119' (the Olympic sports in which China has traditionally not excelled, notably athletics).  For Team GB, Robbie Grabarz's bronze medal in the men's high jump would have been upgraded to silver.

These basic facts mask several intended and unintended consequences, notably:

  • the stolen dreams of clean athletes and coaches denied their just rewards;
  • the punishment of clean Russian athletes stripped of what was rightfully theirs and denied the opportunity of taking part in Rio 2016;
  • nations potentially missing their London 2012 targets and losing funding for athletics; and
  • millions of spectators and viewers being duped into believing they were watching competition taking place on a level playing field.

After a period of considerable stability in the Olympic Games following the boycotted Games of 1980 and 1984, the exclusion of Russia's track-and-field athletes could be a pre-cursor for more turbulent times.  Although Russia seems to have accepted its fate in track and field and its national governing bodies are withdrawing athletes in other sports, how will the whole saga affect the narrative of the event and its future commercial property rights?  Whilst the Olympic movement and the hosts Brazil might be wringing their hands in despair, you might think football's world authority, FIFA, will feel a sense of relief that the spotlight is at least temporarily somewhere else.  Sadly for them the 2018 FIFA World Cup is being held in Russia.


The author:


Professor Simon Shibli

Simon specialises in the sport and leisure industries, with a particular focus on the impact of major sporting events.

"Prior to McLaren there was already evidence of Russian athletes doping, with four athletes stripped of their medals. However, if all of Russia's medals in athletics were reallocated, the full impact of this decision would be wide-ranging."