• Host Brazil expected to earn record 22 medals, with five gold
  • ‘China is very dominant in the sports that it dominates’

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. predicted the U.S. will again lead the medal table at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, ahead of China and the U.K., with host Brazil turning in its best-ever performance.

Using “macroeconomic variables and statistical relationships,” Goldman economists led by Francesco Garzarelli estimated a talented swim team will lead America to 45 gold medals -- one fewer than in London four years ago. China follows at 36 golds, helped by dominant performances in sports like table tennis and badminton. Goldman expects the U.K. to be third, with 23, led by rowing, sailing and cycling.

Enjoying the improved performance typical of Olympic hosts, Brazilian athletes will take 22 medals, with 5 gold, the bank wrote in a note to clients.

Goldman’s efforts to predict the outcomes of sporting events have been mixed. In 2012 the bank perfectly forecast the U.K.’s 65-medal performance and correctly guessed 10 of the 11 top gold medal winners. But the bank’s model also gave France a 23 percent probability of winning this year’s European Football Championships, with Germany the next-most-likely. The ultimate victor was Portugal, which Goldman had granted just an 8 percent likelihood of success.

The bank’s Olympics model relies in part on a measure of economic health, because “a country is more likely to produce world-class athletes in a world-class environment,” the economists wrote. Still, they said, the ongoing controversy over doping by Russian athletes, and the likelihood they’ll be barred from competition in many sports, injects significant uncertainty into this year’s contests.

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