The London 2012 Olympics - a review


  • Date: 15 Aug 2012

After an unforgettable fortnight of sporting high drama and a national mood that could be described as “upbeat”, the London 2012 Olympic Games have now ended and the Olympic flag has been passed on to the 2016 host city, Rio de Janeiro.

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The London 2012 Olympics have been declared a huge success by politicians, competitors and spectators alike, with visitors to the London sporting venues met by a 70,000 strong team of volunteer Games Makers and the city's famous and iconic landmarks providing an inspiring backdrop to the sporting action.

Team GB finished in a very respectable third place in the gold medals chart with 29 golds, behind sporting powerhouses, USA and China, attaining their highest number of golds since the first London games in 1908 in the process and their highest finishing position since Antwerp in 1920. (In fact, the 29 golds exceeded the total number of gold medals won by Britain in all the Summer Olympics between 1972 and 1996.)

Back in April, Significance magazine published a special issue devoted to the Olympics, with articles ranging from how Jamaican sprint superstar Usain Bolt could run faster, effortlessly (did he read the article we wonder? Either way he collected another three gold medals in the 100m, the 200m and the 4x100m relay to add to the three he won in Beijing) through to whether the first Olympics actually took place in 776BC. Tom Fanshawe also looked at the statistical theory that judges the winner of disciplines that combine several separate elements - Britain's star heptathlete Jessica Ennis won the first athletics gold of the Games for Team GB in an extraordinary 47 minutes of Super Saturday action in the Olympic Stadium.

During the Olympics, website editor, Stephanie Kovalchik, wrote a daily update covering the more remarkable performances (Michael Phelps and his record-breaking haul of medals in the pool; the Jamaican men’s 4x100m team shattering the world record, helmed by the ubiquitous Mr Bolt; China’s Ye Shiwen’s extraordinary victories in the individual medleys). Read all 16 daily updates under the Sports section of the website.

Ahead of the Olympics Ray Stefani wrote an article about the likely number of medals Great Britain would win during the Games. His estimate was that the host nation would take home 60 ± 11 medals; Team GB finished with 65 (29 gold, 17 silver, 19 bronze). Ray also followed up his Magazine special issue piece on the outlawed swimsuits with a website piece on the 2012 swimming achievements and a review of the medal count and the athletics results in perspective when judged against the previous Olympiads.
As Vasilis Nikolaou observes in an article published today, certain countries excel in just a few sports (Americans and the British are very good at swimming, athletics, cycling and rowing while the Chinese and Russians are good in a wider range of sports including gymnastics, tennis, badminton, wrestling and weightlifting as well as athletics and swimming). It is this diversity in the range of sports that sees all four countries perform well in the medals table.

We hope you enjoyed the Games as much as we did! And we hope that the 2016 Games in Rio - the first to be held in South America, and coming two years after Brazil host the Football World Cup - will be every bit as successful and will capture the imagination of the sporting public as much as the London Games.

(For those seeking more on the statistics of the Olympic Games, the Royal Statistical Society’s 2012 annual conference in Telford in September may help: the Olympics is one of its special themes.)

Significance is a bi-monthly magazine for anyone interested in statistics and the analysis and interpretation of data. Its aim is to communicate and demonstrate in an entertaining, thought provoking and non-technical way the practical use of statistics in all walks of life, and to show informatively and authoritatively how statistics benefit society. It is published on behalf of the Royal Statistical Society and the American Statistical Association.

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Published features on are checked for statistical accuracy by a panel from the European Network for Business and Industrial Statistics (ENBIS)   to whom Wiley and express their gratitude. This panel are: Ron Kenett, David Steinberg, Shirley Coleman, Irena Ograjenšek, Fabrizio Ruggeri, Rainer Göb, Philippe Castagliola, Xavier Tort-Martorell, Bart De Ketelaere, Antonio Pievatolo, Martina Vandebroek, Lance Mitchell, Gilbert Saporta, Helmut Waldl and Stelios Psarakis.