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London Olympics: Can Team USA top China?

July 11, 2012: 4:36 PM ET

Team USA in Beijing.

At the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, athletes from China collected more gold medals than any other nation -- including the United States.

This time around, an unlikely group is predicting a return to gold glory for Team USA. That group? The economists of Goldman Sachs.

Goldman forecasts that the United States will earn 37 gold medals in London, compared to 33 for China and 30 for host country Great Britain.

The economists also predict the U.S. will end the games with 108 total medals. That's two less than in 2008, but still 10 more than predicted runner-up China.

Why are the fortunes of Team USA forecast to improve this year? Well, for one, the games aren't being held on China's turf. Goldman's economists say that, on average, host nations have won 54% more medals than in other years, which could explain China's very solid performance in Beijing.

Beyond small changes at the top of the medal count, Goldman predicts continued success for a relatively small group of countries.

In 2008, Goldman notes, less than 10 countries won more than 50% of the 1,000 medals awarded in Beijing.

Above all else, a country's economy determines Olympic success, Goldman found. Higher incomes and "superior growth environments" are the keys to success.

And what makes a superior growth environment? Goldman says political conditions, macroeconomic stability, human capital, technology and the microeconomic environment all play key roles.

"It appears that gold does go where growth and the overall growth environment are best," the economists wrote.

Of course, favorable economic conditions can't explain every gold medal winner. At some point, the economists acknowledge, local sports culture, facilities, infrastructure and athletic training all come into play.

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About This Author
Charles Riley
Charles Riley
Reporter, CNNMoney

Charles Riley lives and works in Hong Kong, where he covers markets, economics and other high-impact stories across Asia. He previously worked for CNNMoney in New York and CNN in Washington. He tweets @CRrileyCNN

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