I love the smell of sports and geography in the morning. Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to educate you on these two lovely subjects. I will make it fun and entertaining, but make no mistake about it, you will possibly be doing some learning here today. If that scares you, then that’s pretty weird because this is just about sports, come on.
The Olympics are a strange set of sports that nobody ever watches on their own, but make it a competition between countries all over the world and the insane media hype and you got yourself a massive competition. Athletes from all over the world compete against one another, either for their country or their own glory. Sometimes they love the sport so much they’re willing to play for another country just for a chance to compete.
This is something many smaller countries rely on, like the 2012 Kazakhstan National Women’s Weightlifting team, which was composed almost entirely of Chinese citizens. Some countries just aren’t able to really compete because they don’t have the talent, the training programs, the infrastructure, or possibly even the interest to qualify in some of the Olympic sports.
Think of these countries as underdogs. All the nations on this list have (miraculously) won medals before, but the Gold has always been just out of reach. This could be Saint Kitts and Nevis’s year in the 4×100 m relay! Or even Djibouti’s in the steeplechase! You never know.
This list has been arranged based on two factors: how many medals each country has won other than gold, and the total population of that country, with total medal count taking precedent over population. Countries that have never won a medal before like Andorra and Bolivia will not be counted. Maybe they’ll get their own listicle someday, which might as well be a medal.
You can forgive Vietnam for not having a ton of medals. Declaring independence from France in 1945, Vietnam was split into North and South Vietnam. South Vietnam, officially the Republic of Vietnam, started competing in the Olympics in 1952 in Helsinki. Eight athletes competed in five sports and not one of them won a single medal.
South Vietnam continued participated in the Olympics to 1972, despite the nation being completely engulfed in war, death, and destruction. Throughout that time, the country never won a single medal.
The two countries reunited in 1976 and competed again in 1980 in the Moscow Olympics, missing only the ’84 Olympics which happened to take place in Los Angeles. Their first medal came in the 2000 Sydney Olympics when Hieu Ngan Tran won silver in Taekwondo.
Vietnam has a population of over 92 million, making it the 14th most populous nation in the world. They’ve competed in 14 summer games, and no winter games, and they’ve only won two medals.
A tiny Soviet satellite state located north of India and west of China, Kyrgyzstan has a population of about 6 million. The tiny country has been in six summer Olympics including 2016, and six winter Olympics.
Their best year came in 2008 Beijing where they won two medals in wrestling, a bronze by Kanatbek Begaliev and a silver by Ruslan Tumenbaev. Both men have won gold medals before in the Asian Games and Begaliev has a great track record in the World Championships winning silver. Previously the countries only win came in 2000 with a bronze medal in judo.
For the 2016 games in Rio, they have three athletes scheduled to compete in two sports, including Women’s Marathon and Wrestling. It’s a bit of a step down from the 14 athletes playing in eight sports in 2012, but maybe they’re feeling cocky.
Continuing with countries with name you can’t pronounce is Tajikistan, which is coincidentally Kyrgyzstan’s neighbor. Maybe they should consider teaming up in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Tajikistan competed as an independent nation in the Olympics for the first time in 1996, despite being in the fifth year of a civil war. That just goes to show how seriously some countries take the Olympics. They didn’t win any medals until 2008, just like Kyrgyzstan.
In 2008, they won two medals, just like Kyrgyzstan, a bronze and a silver, Kyrgyzstan. And just like Kyrgyzstan one medal came in wrestling, a silver to Yusup Abdusalomov, the bronze medal going to Rasul Boqiev in judo. Mavzuna Chorieva won a third medal in women’s boxing in 2012.
Currently the country is again being torn apart by violence between different ethnic and religious groups, and one of the country’s top military adviser recently defected to ISIS. Suddenly Dilshod Nazarov winning gold in the hammer throw in 2016 doesn’t seem so important.
12. Saudi Arabia
In 10 Olympic Games, Saudi Arabia has not only never won a gold medal, they’ve only ever won three medals in total. The nation won its first two medals as recently as 2000, in the 400 meter jump and individual show jumping in equestrian. Their third medal came in 2012 for team jumping, also in equestrian.
The country has sent athletes to 10 Summer games, never competing in the Winter Olympics for obvious reasons. However, it was only until 2012 that women in Saudi Arabia were allowed to compete. Up until that time, Saudi Arabia banned women from Olympic competition and it was only have threat of being barred from the Olympics entirely that they allowed female athletes to compete.
Saudi Arabia isn’t sending any women to Rio in 2016, indeed they only have two athletes competing at all in the men’s 400m and 800m.
We try not to judge too harshly around here, but for a country that’s been to 20 summer Olympics including Rio in 2016, and 17 winter games, Iceland should be ashamed they only have four medals. All of their medals have come from the Summer games as well, strange from a country called Iceland. They’ve also had their most success in Australia, so I’m beginning to think this Iceland is different from the one I’m thinking of.
Vilhjálmur Einarsson won the countries first medal in 1956, a silver in the men’s triple jump, which was already the fifth Olympics game the country competed in. They wouldn’t see their next medal for another 28 years, when Bjarni Friðriksson won a bronze in the men’s half heavyweight in judo, whatever that’s supposed to be.
In 2016, five Icelanders will be competing in running, stick throwing, and six different forms of stroking. Four of their five athletes will be women, which is one of the highest ratios of women to men for any nation.
Qatar, one of the smallest nations on this list, has sent athletes to eight Olympic Games starting in 1984. Since then, they have never missed an Olympics, and they won’t be missing 2016 either. Much like Saudi Arabia, they had a long standing ban on women competing in the Olympics, broken only after the threat of banning by the IOC.
Qatar has won four medals in those eight games, their first coming in the ’92 Barcelona Olympics by Mohamed Ahmed Sulaiman. They’ve since won medals in skeet shooting, the high jump, and weightlifting.
They make this list because of their wealth. Qatar is the richest country in the world per capita, and are even hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, not that money played any factor in that decision. For a country that wants to become a world power and indeed host the 2024 Olympics themselves, you’d think they’d spend more money and effort on their athletics.
I don’t know who Frankie Fredricks is, but if you’re a Namibian you probably do. He’s the bee’s knees in his home country, because all four of Namibia’s medals in the Olympics come from one man. He’s won gold medals at the World Championships, the Commonwealth Games, and the African Championships, but it’s four silver medals in the Olympics that made him a legend.
He won two silvers in 1992 in the 100 and 200 meter races, and again in 1996 in Atlanta. The Namibian even tried to pass a law that required Fredricks to participate in every Olympic Games until the end of time, but the bill lost steam when Fredricks reminded congress that he was mortal.
Namibia’s competed in six Olympics, and besides Fredricks’s heroics, they’ve never won a single medal. They’re sending two athletes, both women, to Rio in 2016, technically making them the country with the highest ratio of female athletes at 100%.
Singapore really likes Ping Pong. Sure, their first medal came in 1960 in weightlifting, but their bread and butter has been Ping Pong. Women’s table tennis to be more exact, which does make it sound more refined and classy.
In 2008 and 2012, the women’s table tennis team consisting of Feng Tianwei, Li Jiawei, and Wang Yuegu won the silver and bronze medals respectively. Feng Tianwei also won a bronze medal in 2012 for single’s table tennis. This all-star team competes again in November 2015 to qualify for the 2016 Olympics.
For a country that’s competed in 15 Olympic Games, pinning their hopes on one sport isn’t an ideal situation. They’re bringing eight athletes so far to Rio in 2016 in swimming and sailing, so maybe they’ll diversify their winnings. Or maybe they’ll complete the Ping Pong Dynasty before we found out they deflated the air in the ping pong balls or whatever.
As stated before, countries that are constantly torn apart by war can hardly be blamed for not being too concerned about sports. But Lebanon hasn’t stopped that from competing in 16 Summer Olympics and perhaps even more miraculously 16 Winter Games. They haven’t won any medals in the Winter Olympics, but a desert country even managing to send so many athletes to them is worth a medal itself.
Lebanon cleaned house in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics by winning a silver in the Greco-Roman bantamweight category, and a bronze in the Greco-Roman welterweight category in weightlifting. It would be another 20 years before the country won another medal, this time a silver in weightlifting. Their final medal came in 1980 Moscow, yet another bronze in wrestling.
After that, the country was too heavily engulfed by the Lebanese Civil War, which began in 1975 to really compete. However, they continued sending athletes to the Olympics each year. Currently, no Lebanese athletes have qualified to compete in Rio in 2016, which is odd considering they were able to send athletes during war but not now.
Many Americans might know Ghana from 2010, when they beat the US in the FIFA World Cup round of 16 in a stunning upset (that wasn’t actually an upset). Indeed, Ghana’s national soccer team has been really good lately, but their Olympic output is even better, just not good enough for a gold yet.
Ghana has competed in 13 Summer games, and somehow 1 Winter Olympics thanks to a guy who calls himself “The Snow Leopard.” One of those medals, a bronze in 1992, was won by the soccer team. The other three medals were won by boxers, so we might not want to pick a fight with them after all.
1992 is the last time Ghana won a medal at the Olympics, and so far no athletes from the country have yet to qualify for a spot in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Okay, this one is definitely going to need a geography lesson. Moldova is a tiny European nation located in the Balkans with a population of around 3 million. Pay attention, this will be on the test.
Moldova only has seven medals, which is the most of any nation on this list so far, but it’s the way they’ve done it that’s most admirable. They’ve only competed in five Summer Olympics, and have been to every one since 1996. Moldovian athletes have won at least one medal in every Olympic except 2004. They’ve already booked their tickets to Rio next year as well.
Okay, so five of those medals are bronze, but their diversity is also surprising. They’ve won medals in canoeing, wrestling, shooting, boxing, and weightlifting. In 2016, they’ll have an athletes competing in sprinting and hammer throwing as well. For such a small nation, that’s a pretty admirable output.
And have you seen their header image on their official Olympics page? Everyone’s wearing pink clothes and cowboy hats. How cool is that?
Much like how Singapore loves ping pong, Malaysia loves a good game of Badminton. You know, that other game you played in high school P.E. class. All but one of their medals comes from the tennis knock-off, including three silver medals and two bronze. Three of them are from men’s singles, and two are from men’s doubles.
But the ladies aren’t dragging too far behind, their latest medal, a bronze, came in 2012 in London from Pandelela Rinong for diving.
Malaysia makes the list because they’ve appeared in 14 Olympic games, and despite Lee Chong Wei’s two silver medals, they haven’t been able to get past the hump and find gold. For a country of around 31 million, that’s not very good, especially considering Moldova’s seven medals. It seems size doesn’t matter after all, at least I’ll keep saying that.
3. Puerto Rico
“Puerto Rico? What are they doing on this list, they’re a
colony territory,” you might be asking yourself. Since they’re not officially 100% of the United States, they’re allowed to compete as if they were a fully independent country.
As a result, Puerto Rico has competed in a stunning 18 Summer Olympics and six Winter Olympic games, winning eight medals, more than countries with tens of millions of residents. Whereas other countries like to bat a ball back and forth between a net, Puerto Rico much prefers to bat someone in the face. With their fists. Six of the territory’s medals come from boxing and they even refused to participate in the 1980 boycott of the Moscow Olympics, sending three boxers to duke it out with commies, or something.
Puerto Rico won two medals at the last Olympics, this time for the less violent 400 meter hurdles and “freestyle” wrestling. Well, do what you’re good at, at least. It may come as no surprise then that six athletes have qualified for the 2016 Olympics, including boxing and shooting.
Let’s try not to force Puerto Rico to do anything they don’t want to, okay?
Bangladesh is the 8th most populated country in the world with over 158 million people and it’s also the 94th largest country in terms of landmass. I can’t imagine what living there must be like.
Bangladesh first qualified for the Olympics in 1980, however the government took part in the boycott that year, so they didn’t send their first athletes to the Olympics until 1984. Bangladesh has sent only 32 athletes to the Olympics in eight games and have yet to qualify for a spot in the 2016 Olympics.
What makes Bangladesh stand out is that they’ve never won a medal, period. Not a single bronze, no silver, and obviously no gold. In fact, Bangladesh has never technically qualified for the Olympics, only ever attending due to the IOC’s wildcard program, designed to increase participation from smaller nations.
The country’s poor economy is likely to blame for their athletic shortcomings; a country that struggles to feed its people certainly have more pressing issues to worry about.
1. The Philippines
20 Summer Olympics, 4 Winter Olympics, 487 athletes sent to the farthest corners of the world. All of that and the Philippines have only nine medals to show for it all, the last coming in 1996 Los Angeles. On top of that, seven of them are bronze and only two are silver. With that, the country holds the dubious record of most medals without a gold.
The Philippines has a population of over 102 million people, its economy has been growing for years, and they haven’t been involved in a war since World War II. Unlike many other countries on this list, the Philippines have no excuses.
So far, only one athlete has qualified for 2016 and that’s Eric Shawn Cray in the men’s 400 meter hurdle. The whole nation is watching you, Eric. Resting upon you are the hopes and dreams of a people that are tired of coming in second place, that are tired of this long drought of medals. It’s all up to you, my friend. No pressure.
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