The Dead Olympics: The All-Time Medal Count for Countries That No Longer Exist

When the 2012 Summer Olympics come around, there will be 204 National Olympic Committees (NOCs) participating, one fewer than in 2008 (well, technically, it will be the same, since Brunei didn’t send any athletes but still had, and has, an official delegation).  When the Netherlands Antilles dissolved in October 2010, under International Olympic Committee rules they lost their NOC status as well, and under a new charter passed in 1996 neither of the two new constituent countries, Curacao and Sint Maarten, are entitled to their own Olympic team as they are not independent entities (the NOCs for dependent territories established prior to the new law, such as Puerto Rico, Hong Kong, Aruba, and Bermuda, to name a few, are grandfathered in). Rather, their athletes will now join either the Dutch or Aruban Olympic teams in the future (or for 2012 only compete as independent Olympic athletes under the Olympic flag).

With the end of the Netherlands Antilles, that makes an even 20 NOCs who have participated in the Olympics that no longer exist as representatives of independent or top-level entities.  There have been NOCs such as Germany, Egypt, Serbia, and Russia which also went away with political dissolutions or unions, but they would eventually re-emerge years later and are recognised by the IOC as the successors of the original entities.  Considering the amount of political upheaval around the world since the birth of the modern Olympics, 20 seems like a rather small number, but it’s important to remember that countries did not begin joining the Olympic movement en masse until after World War II; compare the 204 participant countries in 2012 to just 49 in 1936, more than half of which were European.   Of these defunct participants, some were very temporary in nature, lasting only a handful of years, while others were extremely prominent.  In three instances, NOCs sent teams comprised of multiple nations to the games.  Who were these countries, and how much influence did they have on the Olympic movement?

To answer that question, here is the all-time combined winter and summer Olympic medal count for the 20 NOCs that participated in the Olympics but no longer exist (sorted by number of gold medals, then silver, then bronze as per the method used in most of the world; there is no official standard of displaying medal counts).

Country Span
Participants
Sports
Gold
Silver
Bronze
Total
Soviet Union 1952-1988
2 948
37
473
376
355
1 204
East Germany 1968-1988
1 361
31
192
165
162
519
West Germany 1968-1988
1 707
37
67
82
84
243
Unified Team 1992
604
39
54
44
37
135
Czechoslovakia 1920-1992
2 099
41
51
58
62
171
Yugoslavia 1920-1992
1 270
35
26
32
29
87
Australasia 1908-1912
53
8
3
4
5
12
Serbia and Montenegro 1996-2006
205
24
2
4
3
9
Bohemia 1900-1912
66
9
0
1
5
6
United Arab Republic 1960
74
12
0
1
1
2
Netherlands Antilles 1952-2008
55
13
0
1
0
1
West Indies Federation 1960
13
5
0
0
2
2
Malaya 1956-1960
40
5
0
0
0
0
South Vietnam 1952-1972
39
7
0
0
0
0
Saar 1952
36
9
0
0
0
0
North Yemen 1984-1988
10
3
0
0
0
0
Crete 1906
8
2
0
0
0
0
South Yemen 1988
5
2
0
0
0
0
North Borneo 1956
2
1
0
0
0
0
Newfoundland 1904
1
1
0
0
0
0

Anyone with any memory of international sport during the Cold War could probably have guessed the countries at the top rather easily.  In 18 Olympic Games, the Soviet Union ranked first in gold medals a stunning 14 times (and finished second in the other four).  As one of the world’s two reigning superpowers of the day, the Soviets consistently battled with the United States in the Summer Games and Norway in the Winter Games for the top spot on the charts.  In second place comes the German Democratic Republic, better known as East Germany.  Even though post-World War II Germany was split between East and West (and, between 1947 and 1956, Saarland), Germany continued to field a united entry using a German flag featuring an Olympic logo.  In lieu of a united anthem, Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ was played at medal ceremonies.  When a united team was no longer politically tenable, each side formed its own separate NOC, and the results were disproportionately in favour of the East German team.  Despite having a population only in the teens of millions (less than one-third that of West Germany), East Germany was consistently at or near the top of the medal count every Olympiad thanks in large part to its infamous state-supported doping program in which performance-enhancing drugs were systematically administered to athletes from young ages.  As the statute of limitations has long run out, those medals still stand today, making East Germany one of the most disproportionately successful countries in relation to population size in the history of sport.

In fourth place on the list is a team that represented the shell of the Soviet Union in the year after it ceased to exist.  The Unified Team was the 1992-only entrant representing the newly-independent countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan, which had all emerged as independent countries at the end of December 1991.  As the new states had no officially-recognised NOCs of their own, having gained independence just weeks before the Winter Games in Albertville, France, it was not logistically possible to have their athletes compete separately.  The Soviet NOC was kept active for the Winter Games, competing under the Olympic flag and anthem as simply the Unified Team.   By the Summer Games, each of the 11 new NOCs were active, so individual Unified Team medallists were at least able to hear their own national anthems on the podium despite remaining part of the supranational squad.  The Unified Team retained the dominant athletic legacy of the Soviet Union, finishing second and first in medals in the two games, respectively.  On a side note, a month before the Olympics were the 1992 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, during which the Soviet Union ceased to exist in the middle of the tournament.  The team which began as the Soviet Union finished as the Commonwealth of Independent States, simply removing the ‘CCCP’ from their sweaters on 1 January (they won the tournament, by the way).

Other notes:

-The 1908 and 1912 Australasia teams were a joint entry of Australia and New Zealand.  Australia had previously fielded its own entry in 1904.

-Serbia and Montenegro appear twice on this list: once as part of Yugoslavia from 1920 to 1992, and once together from 1996 to 2006.  In the 1992 Summer Olympics, the rump Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (i.e.,Serbia and Montenegro) was banned from competing due to international sanctions, but its athletes (along with those of newly independent Macedonia) were allowed into the games as Independent Olympic Participants, winning a silver and two bronzes.

-Despite merely being a region of Austria-Hungary at the time, Bohemia nevertheless fielded a separate team in three separate games in 1900, 1908, and 1912.

-The rather short-lived West Indies Federation and United Arab Republic, failed attempts at federative British Caribbean and Arab states, only lasted long enough for one Olympiad in 1960.  Both formed in 1958; both were dead by the autumn of 1962.  The constituent countries resumed their independent NOCs afterward.

-While the Saar Protectorate joined the unified German team in 1956, in the previous Summer Olympics it had fielded its own squad.

-In 1904, Bob Fowler became the only athlete to compete in the Olympic Games as a representative of Newfoundland.  A marathon runner, Fowler would later compete in the 1906 Games as part of the United States team.

Further Reading

Netherlands Antilles Olympic Committee (2011).  IOC dims Olympic Flame of 61 year old Olympic Committee of the Netherlands Antilles.  5 July 2011.  Available at http://www.naoc.info/ioc-dims-olympic-flame-of-61-year-old-olympic-committee-of-the-netherlands-antilles/.  Accessed 21 November 2011.

Sports Reference (2011).  Olympic Countries.  Olympics at Sports-Reference.com.  Available at http://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/countries/.  Accessed 21 November 2011.

Third String Goalie (2011).  1992 Unified Team Andrei Kovalenko Jersey.  23 February 2011.  Available at http://thirdstringgoalie.blogspot.com/2011/02/1992-unified-team-andrei-kovalenko.html.  Accessed 22 November 2011.

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