Work, Work, Work for Those Medals

Why athletes from Protestant nations seem to walk away with more Olympic gold.

Beliefnet's Winter Olympics 2002 coverage is sponsored by Guideposts, a source for true stories of hope and inspiration.



If you want to win an Olympic medal, you must train, diet, train, diet and train, plus buy flashy skin-tight glistening sportswear and weird wrap-around sunglasses and load carbs the night before--and, oh yes, become a Protestant.

That's the theory, anyway, whispered among some Christians and based on Olympic medal counts.

Since the modern Olympics began in Athens in 1896, predominantly Protestant countries have won more medals than all other nations combined. Protestant countries have bested Catholic countries by an almost four-to-one margin since 1896. At the most recent Olympics, in Sydney in 2000, of the top ten nations, 265 medals went to Protestant countries (the United States, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, and Great Britain), 101 medals to Catholic nations (France, Italy, and Cuba), 88 medals to Orthodox Russia, and 59 medals to hard-to-classify China. See the complete Sydney medal count here.

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Of course, these are macro figures. Athletes from the "Protestant" United States may actually have been Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, nonbeliever, you name it. "Catholic" France surely sent Protestants to the Games, while "Orthodox" Russia sent Muslims and so on. Additionally, Islamic nations are hobbled by dress codes for women--27 countries do not send female athletes to the Games for this reason.

These medal classifications are at best rough guides. African nations had their best-ever medal performance at Sydney, for instance, bringing home a total of 35. Africa is so diverse religiously--Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, Muslims, animists-- it's hard to know where to put it for purposes of a rough estimate like this.

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