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Chris Chase

U.S. or China: Who will win the overall medal count?

Fourth-Place Medal

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The battle for overall medal count supremacy will be one of the most interesting subplots of the 2008 Olympics. The United States has led the overall medal count since Atlanta but will face a stiff challenge from a host nation that has been gearing up to top the U.S. ever since Beijing was awarded the Games in 2001.

All predictions are essentially educated guesses. Predicting a country's medal haul is the same, minus the educated part. It's impossible. There are too many events, too many competitors and too many sports where athletes go head-to-head (thus making it difficult to predict in advance).

Enter: economists. Those noted sports prognosticators often enter the fray in Olympic years with predictions based on many factors, none of which are sports-related. The predictions don't fare too well -- stunning, when you consider that the economists use population counts and income levels , not actual sports, to make their picks. They are also fond of recent upward trajectory, so the fact that China has been steadily increasing its medal count since 1988 plays well in the eyes of the economists.

If upward trajectory was a reliable indicator of future success, Britney Spears should have been president by now. Things level off. This isn't to say that China won't win the gold or overall medal races, but if they do it's not because PricewaterhouseCoopers said so.

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