correction

A previous version of a graphic in this story incorrectly said that the Summer Olympics were held in Tokyo in 1966 and in Australia in 2002.

Hosting an Olympics can be risky financially, politically and, this year, epidemiologically. But competitively, it has always been a pretty good bet.

Despite the absence of home crowds in Tokyo, Japan continued a long tradition of host countries raking in more medals than usual. Japanese athletes finished the Summer Games last weekend with a national record of 58 medals (27 of them gold), good for fifth overall — 17 more medals and two ranking spots higher than Japan finished in 2016.

Medals won by host

countries since 1948

In Summer Olympics.

Japan

Brazil

Britain

London ’12

65

Tokyo ’20

58

Tokyo ’64

29

London ’48

27

Rio ’16

19

Greece

China

Australia

Beijing ’08

100

Sydney ’00

58

Melbourne ’56

35

Athens ’04

16

United

States

Spain

South Korea

Seoul ’88

33

Los Angeles ’84

174

Barcelona ’92

22

Atlanta ’96

101

Canada

Soviet Union

Moscow ’80

195

Montreal ’76

11

West

Germany

Mexico

Munich ’72

40

Mexico ’68

9

Italy

Finland

Rome ’60

36

Helsinki ’52

22

Medals won by host

countries since 1948

In Summer Olympics.

Japan

Brazil

Britain

London ’12

65

Tokyo ’20

58

Tokyo ’64

29

London ’48

27

Rio ’16

19

Greece

China

Australia

Beijing ’08

100

Sydney ’00

58

Melbourne ’56

35

Athens ’04

16

Spain

South Korea

United

States

Seoul ’88

33

Los Angeles ’84

174

Barcelona ’92

22

Atlanta ’96

101

Canada

Soviet Union

Moscow ’80

195

Montreal ’76

11

West

Germany

Mexico

Munich ’72

40

Mexico ’68

9

Italy

Finland

Rome ’60

36

Helsinki ’52

22

Medals won by host

countries since 1948

In Summer Olympics.

Japan

Brazil

Britain

London ’12

65

Tokyo ’20

58

Tokyo ’64

29

London ’48

27

Rio ’16

19

Greece

China

Australia

Beijing ’08

100

Sydney ’00

58

Melbourne ’56

35

Athens ’04

16

Spain

South Korea

United

States

Seoul ’88

33

Los Angeles ’84

174

Barcelona ’92

22

Atlanta ’96

101

Canada

Soviet Union

Moscow ’80

195

Montreal ’76

11

West

Germany

Mexico

Munich ’72

40

Mexico ’68

9

Italy

Finland

Rome ’60

36

Helsinki ’52

22

Medals won by host countries since 1948

In Summer Olympics.

Japan

Brazil

Britain

China

Greece

Beijing ’08

100

London ’12

65

Tokyo ’20

58

Tokyo ’64

29

London ’48

27

Rio ’16

19

Athens ’04

16

Soviet Union

United States

Australia

Spain

South Korea

Moscow ’80

195

Sydney ’00

58

Melbourne

’56

Los Angeles ’84

174

Seoul ’88

33

35

Barcelona ’92

22

Atlanta ’96

101

Canada

West Germany

Mexico

Munich ’72

40

Montreal

’76

11

Mexico ’68

9

Italy

Finland

Rome ’60

36

Helsinki ’52

22

Medals won by host countries since 1948

In Summer Olympics.

Japan

Brazil

Britain

China

Greece

Beijing ’08

100

London ’12

65

Tokyo ’20

58

Tokyo ’64

29

London ’48

27

Rio ’16

19

Athens ’04

16

Soviet Union

United States

Australia

Spain

South Korea

Moscow ’80

195

Sydney ’00

58

Los Angeles ’84

174

Melbourne ’56

35

Seoul ’88

33

Barcelona ’92

22

Atlanta ’96

101

Canada

West Germany

Mexico

Munich ’72

40

Montreal ’76

11

Mexico ’68

9

Italy

Finland

Rome ’60

36

Helsinki ’52

22

Every country that hosted a Summer Games since 1956 has boosted its medal haul compared to the most recent Olympics — with the exception of the United States in 1996, which came close. And nine of the 15 countries that have hosted since 1948 set their all-time highest medal total at home.

Difference in medals

from the previous Summer Olympics

-10

0

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

COUNTRY

YEAR

+17

Japan

2020

+2

Brazil

2016

+13

Britain

2012

+37

China

2008

+3

Greece

2004

+17

Australia

2000

-7

U.S.

1996

+18

Spain

1992

South Korea

+14

1988

U.S.

+80

1984

U.S.S.R.

+70

1980

Canada

+6

1976

The U.S. boycotted Moscow 1980 and the Soviet Union boycotted Los Angeles 1984

W. Germany

+14

1972

Mexico

1968

+8

+11

Japan

1964

Italy

+14

1960

+24

Australia

1956

-2

Finland

1952

+14

Britain

1948

Difference in medals

from the previous Summer Olympics

COUNTRY

YEAR

-10

0

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

+17

Japan

2020

+2

Brazil

2016

+13

Britain

2012

+37

China

2008

+3

Greece

2004

+17

Australia

2000

-7

United States

1996

Spain

+18

1992

South Korea

+14

1988

United States

+80

1984

Soviet Union

1980

+70

Canada

+6

1976

The U.S. boycotted Moscow 1980 and the Soviet Union boycotted Los Angeles 1984

W. Germany

+14

1972

Mexico

1968

+8

+11

Japan

1964

Italy

+14

1960

+24

Australia

1956

-2

Finland

1952

+14

Britain

1948

Difference in medals

from the previous Summer Olympics

COUNTRY

YEAR

-10

0

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

+17

2020

Japan

+2

2016

Brazil

+13

2012

Britain

+37

2008

China

+3

2004

Greece

+17

2000

Australia

-7

United States

1996

+18

Spain

1992

+14

South Korea

1988

+80

United States

1984

+70

Soviet Union

1980

+6

Canada

The U.S. boycotted Moscow 1980 and the Soviet Union boycotted Los Angeles 1984

1976

+14

W. Germany

1972

Mexico

1968

+8

+11

Japan

1964

+14

Italy

1960

+24

Australia

1956

-2

Finland

1952

+14

Britain

1948

Number of medals of the host countries

Since London 1948 Olympics.

Japan

Brazil

Britain

China

Greece

Beijing ’08

100

London ’12

65

Tokyo ’20

58

Tokyo ’64

29

London ’48

27

Rio ’16

19

Athens ’04

16

West Germany

Australia

Spain

South South Korea

Canada

Sydney ’00

58

Munich ’72

40

Melbourne ’56

35

Seoul ’88

33

Barcelona ’92

22

Montreal ’76

11

Mexico

Italy

Finland

Rome ’60

36

Helsinki ’52

22

Mexico ’68

9

Those charts begin after World War II because medal tables were often wildly skewed toward the home country simply because few athletes from elsewhere competed before the Olympics caught on worldwide. None was more lopsided than the St. Louis Games of 1904, when 84 percent of the competitors and 89 percent of the medalists were American.

Two other skewed tallies occurred in the 1980s, when the two largest political and athletic superpowers boycotted each others’ Games and left sizable competitive vacuums.

Without the Americans and many of their allies, the Soviet Union won nearly 200 medals at the 1980 Moscow Games. When the Soviets and their allies stayed home four years later, the United States won 174 medals in Los Angeles.

United States

Soviet Union

Moscow ’80

195

Los Angeles ’84

174

Atlanta ’96

101

United States

Soviet Union

Moscow ’80

195

Los Angeles ’84

174

Atlanta ’96

101

United States

Soviet Union

Moscow ’80

195

Los Angeles ’84

174

Atlanta ’96

101

Other than those anomalies, the reasons hosts win so many medals range from national pride and easy logistics to built-in advantages that come as part of the deal.

Hosts often beef up athletic spending

Staging an Olympics is frighteningly expensive, and no host wants to look bad at their own party. So, many countries put extra money and effort into getting their athletes ready to compete.

Sometimes a host will create an athletic structure and financing source that carries over to future Olympics as well, such as Spain before the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.

Before it hosted, Spain had won just 26 Summer Games medals, including four in 1988.

That year, it created a plan to provide a financial stipend to elite athletes so they could focus on training for 1992. Sponsors put up the money but expected results — and got them.

Spain’s medal strength

Barcelona

1992

25

22

Bronze

20

Silver

17

15

Gold

10

5

0

1948

1992

2020

Spain’s medal strength

Barcelona

1992

25

22

Bronze

20

Silver

17

15

Gold

10

5

0

1948

1992

2020

Spain’s medal strength

Barcelona

1992

25

22

Bronze

20

Silver

17

15

Gold

10

5

0

1948

1992

2020

Number of medals of the host countries

Since London 1948 Olympics.

Japan

Brazil

Britain

China

Greece

Beijing ’08

100

London ’12

65

Tokyo ’20

58

Tokyo ’64

29

London ’48

27

Rio ’16

19

Athens ’04

16

West Germany

Australia

Spain

South Korea

Canada

Sydney ’00

58

Munich ’72

40

Melbourne ’56

35

Seoul ’88

33

Barcelona ’92

22

Montreal ’76

11

Mexico

Italy

Finland

Rome ’60

36

Helsinki ’52

22

Mexico ’68

9

In Barcelona, Spaniards won 22 medals in sports such as track and field, rhythmic gymnastics, field hockey, judo, swimming, tennis, archery, sailing, water polo and boxing.

No medal was more celebrated than the Spanish gold in men’s soccer.

As El País’s José Sámano wrote in 2017: “The soccer victory was the cherry on the top of a fantastic Olympic event that confirmed the professionalization of Spanish athletes, ensured a steady flow of revenue from sponsors, and turned television rights into the great Olympic cash cow. For Spain, it also meant the definitive takeoff of sport, which has been climbing to new heights ever since then.”

Spain has come home from every Olympics since Barcelona with at least 11 medals.

New sports often favor the host country

A few competitive perks are built into the deal for host countries, and they result in more athletes from that country getting to participate.

For instance, it is not accidental that the host country is nearly always good at new sports. One of the IOC’s criteria for adding a sport to the Olympics is the sport’s popularity in the host country.

This isn’t just to be nice to the host. In normal years, ticket sales depend on the home fans showing up, so popularity can be especially critical in a sport that has no Olympic history.

Japan benefited from new sports this year in a big way, winning five of the 12 medals awarded in skateboarding, taking two of six in both surfing and sport climbing, and medaling in three of the eight karate events. It also won gold in baseball and softball, which returned to the Olympics after being booted from the program in 2008.

5

Skateboarding

3

Karate

2

Surfing

2

Sport Climbing

2

Baseball/Softball

Skateboarding

5

Karate

3

Surfing

2

Sport Climbing

2

Baseball/Softball

2


Japan's Yukiko Ueno (17) and Yu Yamamoto (5) celebrate after clinching the gold medal with a 2-0 win over the United States. (Matt Slocum/AP)

When Tokyo hosted in 1964, judo debuted; Japan invented the sport and still dominates. Team USA won the first gold and silver in men’s beach volleyball in 1996 in Atlanta, and South Korea won gold and silver in table tennis in 1988 in Seoul.

And if Paris’s showing at the Closing Ceremonies is any indication, France seems to be all-in on break dancing in 2024.

Host countries also get automatic spots in team sports tournaments (and a few individual events) even if those teams did not meet qualifying standards.

That perk doesn’t necessarily mean more medals — teams that weren’t good enough to qualify rarely make the podium. But it does mean more athletes for home fans to cheer.

Home is where the logistics are easier and the crowds are louder

Local athletes don’t get jet lag playing at home. They are used to the climate and the food. They probably have friends and family close by. They know the culture and customs — and maybe even which highways and restaurants to avoid. They will be more familiar with the venues than other athletes and are more likely to have competed in them previously.

And, in any Games except the ones that just finished, their countrymen will pack the stands, typically making up at least three-quarters of the spectators.

Older stars from host countries may try to stick around one more cycle, and younger ones may try to speed up their progress in time to qualify. Top pro players who may not normally be interested are sometimes lured into a home Games. For example, Brazilian superstar Neymar played on the 2016 team in Rio, and he made the final penalty kick that clinched Brazil’s first Olympic soccer gold.


Brazil's Neymar celebrates after scoring the winning penalty against German in the 2016 Summer Olympics men's soccer final. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Researchers have attempted to quantify the home-crowd boost and found it hard to pinpoint (and suggested it can even be negative for some athletes who feel pressure to perform). Others have documented a home-court advantage with referees and judges, who may be influenced, perhaps unconsciously, by overwhelming cheers and boos.

Either way, just try telling Australian athletes that they didn’t get a boost from hundreds of thousands of people warbling “Waltzing Matilda” for two straight weeks in 2000.

Ian Thorpe, then a 17-year-old swimming phenom fans called the “Thorpedo,” said in a 2020 interview with AP Australia that he didn’t really understand the Olympics until he heard the sold-out crowd chanting his name.

“As soon as I walked out, I realized how big this was,” he said.

Thorpe would win five of Australia’s 58 medals, the country’s biggest haul ever and 17 more than the previous Summer Games — yet another example of the power of home-country advantage.