No medal? Cheer for that country.

71 National Olympic Comittee’s (nations and territories) have not won an Olympic medal, but some have come closer than others.

When Kirani James won a gold medal at the Olympics, his nation of Grenada was ecstatic. Grenada, a nation home to 107,000 residents had now joined many of its island neighbors as nations or territories with Olympic medals.

The celebratory messages poured into the GrenadianConnection.com website with sentiments such as: “thanks for taking us to new heights”, “we Grenadians are celebrating our first world championship”, “Grenada is now visible on the map because of our excellent performance”, “we may be small but can produce great things”, “it’s time to celebrate Kirani with a postage stamp.”

Mr. Killa, a soca musician who frequently makes music related to current events, made “Kirani City” a song to honor James and Gouyave, the town they both grew up in.

Like a Greek bard in the original Olympics, Mr. Killa (whose real name is Hollice Mapp) sings of the glories of Kirani and their town “Gouyave City, where the champion from” and brags “The U.S sweet, but Grenada sweeter, Grenada sweet but Gouyave sweeter”, a reminder that countries that compete at the Olympics are of vastly different sizes. 

In the video for this song, Kirani leaves the modest pink house he grew up in, hugs his parents and ventures forth from his fishing village to the world stage.  A bonfire blazes on the beach, men walking on stilts wave the Grenadan flag, women dance in festive clothing and the people of Gouyave chant Kirani’s name.  

People watch the Olympics in various ways.  I like to focus on the countries that have won no or few medals in the hope of enjoying moments like Kirani James’ win for Grenada. 2016 was a good Olympic for that: Fiji, Gabon, Jordan, Togo and a few other countries won medals for the first time.

Map of Countries with no Olympic medals

Of the 206 National Olympic Comittees competing, 71 have not won medals.  Some have come really close. Honduras was a goal away from a bronze medal. Mali’s athlete got injured and couldn’t compete in the bronze medal match. San Marino was knocked down to fourth by a three-way tie for second place.

Many more have at least made the finals and some surprisingly small delegations at least had an athlete qualify for the next round of an event. 

Only about fifteen nations have never really had an athlete advance in any Olympic competition.

It is worth noting that most nations with few medals have won them in a handful of sports like athletics, weightlifting, and boxing, not in sports like fencing or horseback riding. 

So while most people look at the top of the medal count, I think the more interesting stories are the bottom.

My pick for which country will win a medal for the first time? Burkina Faso.

Hugues Fabrice Zango, an athlete from this West African nation holds the indoor world record for the triple jump and has won several competitions.

Will Zango put Burkina Faso into the world’s consciousness for a moment? I’ll be rooting for him and suggest you do as well.

Fourth Place Finishers

Republic of Congo: Franck Elemba was 0.17 metres away from winning a bronze medal in the Men’s Shot Put in 2016.

Honduras: Also in 2016, Nigeria’s men’s soccer team beat Honduras by a goal in the bronze medal match to win its second Olympic medal in the sport.

Mali: In 2012, Daba Modibo Keita had to withdraw from the bronze medal match in men’s 80kg + taekwondo competition due to injury.

Myanmar: Kay Thi Win narrowly lost third place in women’s 48g weightlifting, to Indonesia’s Sri Indiyani.

Nicaragua: The United States thumped the Central American nation in bronze medal match of 1996, beating them 23-2.

San Marino: Alessandra Perilli was knocked down to 4th in Women’s Trap Shooting in 2012 after a three-way tie for second place.

Finalists:

Albania: Two male weightlifters, Briken Calja and Ilirjan Suli finished fifth in 2016 and 2000 Olympics, respectively.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Nedzad Fazlija placed sixth in the men’s 50m rifle prone competition in 2000.

Cayman Islands: Cydonie Mothersille made the women’s 200m finals in 2008 and finished eighth.

Madagascar: Jean-Louis Ravelomanantsoa was a finalist for the 100-meter race in 1968 and finished eighth.

Oman: Mohammed Al-Malky was a finalist in the men’s 400-meter race in 1988 and finished eighth.

Papua New Guinea: Ryan Pini was a finalist for the men’s 100-meter butterfly swimming, finishing eighth.

Rwanda: Mathias Ntawulikura finished eighth in the men’s 10000-meter race in 1996.

Sierra Leone: Eunice Barber finished fifth in the 2000 women’s heptathlon.  

Somalia: Abdi Bile finished the men’s 1500-meter race in sixth place in 1992.

St. Kitts & Nevis: Kim Collins came in sixth in the men’s 100-meter dash in 2004 and the 200-meter dash in 2008.

Turkmenistan: Umurbek Bazarbayev was a 6th finisher in the men’s 62kg weightlifting competition in 2004 and 2012.

Nations that have had an athlete qualify for the semi-finals of an Olympic competition: Antigua & Barbuda, Belize, Benin, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dominica, Gambia, Guam, Lesotho, Liberia, Sao Tome and Principe, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Nations where an athlete has finished between ninth and fifteenth place in a competition: Andorra, American Samoa, Angola, Chad, Kiribati, Malta, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Nepal, Seychelles.