There is a need for fair measures of country sport performance that include athletes who do not win medals.
To develop a measure of country performance based on athlete ranks in the sport of swimming.
Annual top-150 ranks in Olympic pool-swimming events were downloaded for 1990 through 2011. For each athlete of a given rank, a score representing the athlete’s performance potential was estimated as the proportion of athletes of that rank who ever achieved top rank. A country’s scores were calculated by summing its athletes’ scores over all 32 events. Reliability and convergent validity were assessed via year-to-year correlations and correlations with medal counts at major competitions. The method was also applied to ranks at the 2012 Olympics to evaluate countries’ swimming performance.
The performance score of an athlete of a given rank was closely approximated by 1/rank. This simpler score has 1 practical interpretation: An athlete ranked 7th (for example) has a chance of 1/7 of ever achieving top rank; for purposes of evaluating country performance, 7 such athletes are equivalent to 1 athlete of the top rank. Country scores obtained by summing 1/rank of the country’s athletes had high reliability and validity. This approach produced scores for 168 countries at the Olympics, whereas only 17 countries won medals.
The authors used the sport of swimming to develop a fair and inclusive measure representing a country’s performance potential. This measure should be suitable for assessing countries in any sports with world rankings or with athletes at major competitions.