Continuing our coverage of the 2012 Olympics, here are the 10 countries who have earned the most medals throughout the history of the Olympics – 26 editions. The medal count does not include any earned in the 2012 Olympics. I have also decided to leave out the Soviet Union and East Germany (who would place 2nd and 10th, respectively) since they no longer compete and cannot add to their total. It should also be noted that Russia has only competed in 4 Olympics, and just missed the cut, in 11th place.
#10. Japan – 360
Japan first competed in the 1912 Olympics, and has only missed two since. In 1948, the country did not compete because of World War II, and in 1980, Japan joined the US-led boycott because of the Soviet Union’s involvement in Afghanistan. Tokyo hosted the 1964 edition, where Japan finished 3rd. They equaled this in Mexico City four years later. Their medal total then dropped off, finishing 23rd in 1996. But, the medals have slowly started to build up again. Japan has won more judo medals than any other country, while gymnastics, swimming, and wrestling are their other strongest fields.
#9. China – 385
It may be surprising to see China, who has been a dominant force at the Olympics for a decade now, so low down. But, China didn’t compete in the Olympics from 1956 to 1984, because of a dispute as to the political status of the country. They finished 4th in the medal table at their first Olympics back, in 1984, and finished 1st in 2008, when Beijing was the host. China has won more medals in gymnastics than in any other sport, and holds the record for the most medals of any country in both table tennis and badminton.
#8. Australia – 432
Having sent athletes to all 26 Olympics, you might expect Australia to be even higher. But the country has a population of only 20 million, making their accomplishments remarkable. Melbourne hosted the 1956 Olympics, while Sydney got the honor in 2000. As hosts, Australia finished 3rd and 4th, respectively. The country has finished in the top ten in the last 5 Olympics, and has won 168 swimming medals, making it by far their strongest sport. Rowing, cycling, and athletics have also been strong events for the Australians.
#7. Hungary – 459
Hungary, who has won the most medals of any nation to never host the Olympics, may be the most surprising name in the top ten. But, they have been a real force in fencing, canoeing, wrestling, and swimming, taking home over 250 medals in those sports alone. Hungary has also won more medals than any other country in the modern pentathlon and water polo. However, Hungary finished 20th in Beijing in 2008 with only 10 medals, and their last top-five performance was back in 1968. They may well fall out of the top ten in the next decade, unless they can become a contender once again.
#6. Sweden – 475
Sweden is one of only a few countries to have won medals at every Olympic Games since 1908. In 1912, Stockholm hosted the Olympics, and Sweden finished 2nd in the medal table, with 65 medals – their best performance ever. They would finish 2nd twice more. However, Sweden collected a mere 5 medals in 2008, in one of their worst performances ever. Sweden does not hold any records, but has won over 50 medals in three sports – wrestling, athletics, and shooting. They also won one of the few tug of war medals, back in their 1912 edition.
#5. Italy – 522
The Italians have had a tight rivalry with France throughout the history of the Olympics. In fact, the two countries are currently tied for number of gold medals, with 191 each. But, France does have the edge in overall medals. Italy has competed in 25 Olympics, only missing out in 1904. Their largest medal haul was 36, in 1932 and when Rome hosted the 1960 edition. In 1932, Italy finished second overall. Italian fencers have been extremely successful, as Italy holds the medal record in that sport. Cycling and athletics have also been successful sports for the country.
#4. France – 637
1900 was by far France’s most successful Olympic Games. As hosts, the French won 101 medals, and finished on top of the final medal table. Paris hosted the games again, 24 years later. However, France only won 38 medals, and finished a disappointing 3rd. Fencing is France’s most productive sport, while the French hold records in cycling and interestingly, croquet. The French won 7 medals during the time croquet was included in the Olympics. France has actually competed in all 27 modern Olympic games, one of only 4 countries to do so.
#3. Great Britain – 715
Great Britain is another one of the four countries to have competed at all the Olympic Games. London has hosted three, including the 2012 edition, which is a record for a city. In 1908, Great Britain earned 146 medals, the only time they won over 100, and finished first. 1996 was a low for the team, as only 15 medals were won, including 1 gold. But, Great Britain was able to rebound, and by 2008, were in the top 5 of the medal table. Sir Steve Redgrave, a rower, and Sir Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins, both cyclists, are the British athletes with the most medals in Olympic history.
#2. Germany – 851
Germany did not compete in the Olympics from 1968-1988, as a West German and an East German team competed. They returned with a bang in 1992, earning 82 medals, their second most ever, and finishing 3rd overall. Like most countries, their most successful performance was when they hosted the Olympics – the 1936 Berlin edition. 89 medals were won, and the team did manage to finish 1st in the final medal table. Germany holds the record for the most equestrian medals, and has also been strong in swimming and rowing.
#1. United States – 2,296
The US has got such a lead in medals that it will be at least a half a century before another country can even come close to taking the top spot. Four Olympics have been hosted in the US. The 1904 St. Louis Games saw the United States take home an amazing 239 medals, the most any country has ever won at a single Olympic Games. The US leads the medal count in 13 different sports, although 4 are no longer in the Olympics. 29% of the country’s medals have come in athletics.