Why aiming for a French top 5 ranking in the medal standings is ambitious, but not impossible

Two exceptions aside, all nations that have hosted the Games after the war have seen a significant jump in the medal standings.

France Televisions – Sport Editorial

Published on 11/03/2024 07:33

Reading time: 1 min

Teddy Riner in Paris, with two medals around his neck, upon his return from the Tokyo Olympics on August 8, 2021. (AGENCE KMSP / KMSP)

The top 5. This is the stated goal of Emmanuel Macron and the key figures in French sports for France’s medal count at the Paris Olympics. A feat the country has not achieved since twenty-eight years ago, at Atlanta (USA) in 1996. Always between the fifth and tenth place since then, with an eighth-place finish in Tokyo in 2021, the French delegation will need to capitalize on the advantage of hosting the Games to climb in the rankings. While the goal may seem ambitious, history shows that it is not unattainable.

A projection of 52 medals and 27 titles
It may not be an exact prediction, but it certainly encourages the French authorities in their ambition. The Gracenote Nielsen Institute, which bases its statistical model on the individual and collective results of previous Olympics, world championships, and world cups, released its projection of the virtual medal table for Paris 2024 in February 2024.

And it places France in… third place, with 27 gold medals, 14 silver, and 11 bronze, for a total of 52 medals (fifth in total number of medals). Unsurprisingly, the United States and China top this projection, but France is ahead of Great Britain and Japan – who outperformed them in Tokyo – in terms of gold medals, which determine the medal standings hierarchy.

Only one unknown, not taken into account in this projection, remains: the position of Russian athletes. They will compete under the neutral banner of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), as they did in Tokyo, and have been largely absent from competitions leading up to the 2024 edition. In 2021, the ROC finished fifth with 20 gold medals, twice the number of France.

An almost always increasing number of medals for the host country
One thing is almost certain: France will increase its total number of medals compared to the previous edition (33), as only two host countries out of 18 since 1952 have not progressed when hosting the Games. Finland in 1952 and, surprisingly, the United States in 1996, did not capitalize on hosting the Games to increase their total number of medals.

The two editions with the largest difference in medals compared to the previous one for the host country (+70 medals for the USSR in 1980 and +80 medals for the United States in 1984) should be viewed with caution as they were the result of a mutual boycott by both countries during the Cold War. Apart from these two significant Games, it can be observed that China (+37 medals in 2008), Great Britain (+14 in 2012), Spain (+18 in 1992), or Australia (+24 in 1956 and +17 in 2000) have been able to capitalize on hosting such an event.

So, what can France expect in 2024? Potentially an equal or higher number than in Tokyo (33), if we consider the average increase between the previous edition and the hosting edition since 1952 (+11.9), and Gracenote’s projection, which gives the French delegation 53 medals in Paris.

This result would surpass the record of 42 medals set at the Rio de Janeiro edition in 2016. “We expect to see progress, without reaching the 80 medals of Laura Flessel [Sports Minister from May 2017 to September 2018]. All models predict around 50 medals, with the number of titles nearly doubling compared to Rio or Tokyo,” explains Thierry Terret, sports historian and ministerial delegate for the Olympic and Paralympic Games from 2018 to 2022.

Towards a record number of titles for France
Let’s focus on gold medals, as their number determines the medal standings. Since the war, only two host countries have not increased their number of titles when hosting the Games: once again, Finland in 1952 (ten titles, compared to eight in 1948) and Canada in 1976 (no titles both times).

In nine of the last 18 editions, the host country has even set a record for gold medals that still stands today. For France, doubling their record (15 titles in Atlanta) would mean not only aiming for a top 5 finish but possibly even a podium in the final standings. However, the top two spots will remain out of reach no matter what. “The United States and China are untouchable, the bar is definitively too high, It’s just impossible,” concludes historian Thierry Terret.

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