The Winter Olympics open in 30 days, and Norway is expected to head the medal standings for the second straight time, even topping its record haul of 39 medals in 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
This is the prediction of U.S.-based Gracenote Sports, which released its medal table forecast on Wednesday with the Beijing Winter Games opening on Feb. 4.
Nielsen-Gracenote supplies statistical analysis to sports league around the world. Its Olympic numbers are based off computer models that analyze the most recent results in major competitions — and smaller ones — in the run-up to Beijing.
Norway is predicted to win 22 gold medals and 45 overall. More than half of Norway’s medals are predicted to come in cross country skiing and biathlon.
Second place, if total medals is used for the ranking order, will be the Russian Olympic Committee with 11 gold and 32 overall. The team in Beijing, as in Tokyo, will be known as the ROC, or the Russian Olympic Committee.
The ROC must compete without its national flag or anthem, fallout from a state-backed doping program dating from the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Many critics say the punishment is negligible since athletes still compete in national colors.
Under the IOC guidelines, the athletes will represent not their country, but the ROC.
Germany is picked to finish third with 12 gold and 25 overall. After this, the next seven countries are closely grouped. They are: United States (7 gold, 22 overall), Canada (6-22), Sweden (7-21), Switzerland (5-21), Netherlands (6-20), Austria (5-18), and France (2-18).
Japan is expected to produce its most overall medals in a Winter Olympics with 17, including four gold medals. Host nation China is predicted to win six gold and 11 overall.
The Beijing Olympics have been shrouded in controversy with the United States and several other countries declining to send any high-ranking political representatives to Beijing. At the heart are allegations of crimes against humanity that target mostly Muslim ethnic minorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
Simon Gleave, the head of sports analysis for Gracenote, said predictions for Beijing are even more difficult with the pandemic. Athletes have missed competitions because of travel restrictions, particularly last season. And, of course, last-minute entry lists can change if athletes test positive for the coronavirus.
“Hopefully we have the kind of forecast which gets us as close as we usually do,” Gleave told The Associated Press.
“We’re looking to get the top 10 counties to be as close as possible and preferably in the right sort of order,” Gleave added. “But there will be changes to this because it is sports. Sports is unpredictable. We can’t get this absolutely bang-on, nor should we expect to.”
A big question is what to do about men’s ice hockey. The NHL’s withdrawal late last year shakes up the strength of many of the teams. Gleave said Gracenote had originally picked Canada to win gold, followed by Finland and the United States.
Gleave said the new projection has Finland winning gold, followed by ROC and bronze for Canada.
Gracenote is expected to update the medal predictions around Jan. 19 and issue a final forecast just days before the Olympics open as entry lists are firmed up.