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Title: Mapping the Winter Olympics with Science on a Sphere


This dataset was created by students and staff at the Advanced Visualization Lab  to highlight the rich history of the Winter Olympic Games. Begun in 1924, the games have grown from 20 participating countries to a record 88 in 2014. Sixteen women competed in the first Games while 1,050 did so in 2010. Norway is the all-time Winter Olympics medal leader, followed by the United States, but the Soviet Union still ranks fifth, over twenty years after its dissolution. 

Three SOS datasets will be released in this series.  The first will map historic participation by country and gender.  The second dataset will map historic medal counts along with the evolution of events.  The third dataset will contrast different ways to scale and represent participation and medal data based on population and economic factors.


The primary goal of this project was to develop workflows and tools for easily prototyping and producing a variety of political, economic, and social maps – including choropleths, cartograms, proportional symbol maps, and network maps – all suitable for display on SOS as well as ultra-resolution tiled displays.  We utilized the relatively powerful and intuitive online tool indiemapper ( to prototype most of our ideas. These ideas were then recreated in Processing ( to provide greater control over the rendering details and to enable proper distortion of symbols and text prior to the ECE-to-sphere projection.  (We intend to make our Processing code available at a later date this spring.)

Several supporting techniques were implemented in Processing to address the specific requirements and limitations of spherical displays.  One technique involved the pre-warping of symbols and text to negate the subsequent distortion that occurs closer to the north and south poles when ECE projections are wrapped onto the sphere.  The other involved the conversion of typical bar charts into radial bar charts so that the entire chart could be more readily viewed from a single vantage point.  

Dataset Details

Data was culled from a variety of web sources and compiled in an Excel spreadsheet. Data sources include Olympic participation and medal data from and along with socio-economic data from  All data was indexed by ISO country codes, and the file was exported in CSV format for easy import into the packages used.  Additional data and visual assets were collected, including geographic shape files for country borders (, and image files for flags and Olympic medals. 

Additional information is available at: All visualizations are available for download from the NOAA SOS FTP site:

Dataset 1: History of Olympic Participation

In this series, total participation data for each country for each year of the Winter Olympics (1924-2014) is encoded multiple ways:

  • A choropleth map in shades of blue, set to range from 1 to 224.  The maximum represents the most athletes any single country sent to any single winter games (USA in 2014).

  • Numeric label indicating the number of participants per country, also scaled from minimum to maximum size.

  • A stacked bar chart with radial layout showing the division between male and female participants per country.  Participating countries are grouped by continent and identified with the country flag.

SOS PIPs (picture in picture) are used to present an interesting fact from each year.

Dataset 1

Dataset 2: History of Medals Won

In this series, medal results for each country for each year (1924-2014) is also encoded in multiple ways:

  • A choropleth map in shades of green, set to range from 1 to 37, the maximum any single country won in a single winter games (USA in 2010).  Participating countries that did not win any medals are indicated in dark blue.

  • A pie chart indicating the proportion of gold, silver, and bronze medals.  The entire pie chart is proportionately scaled by the total number of medals from minimum to maximum size.

  • Numeric label indicating the total number of medals won per country, also scaled from minimum to maximum size.

  • A stacked bar chart with radial layout showing the gold, silver, and bronze medals won by each country.  Participating countries are grouped by continent and identified with the country flag.

SOS PIPs (picture in picture) are used to present the front and back of medals from each year.

Dataset 2

Dataset 3: Digging Deeper - comparing relative values and representations

This series of maps is intended to instruct viewers on how decisions regarding the selection and relative scaling of data values, along with the choice of visual representation on the sphere, can influence the message conveyed to viewers.   The sequence proceeds with data from the 2014 games as:

  1. The first sequence examines the impact of scaling participation and medal values by relevant factors such as population and wealth (as measured by GDP – gross domestic product.):

    1. “standard representations” as choropleths with scaled symbols for both participation and medals won as a reference

    2. scaling of each country’s medals won by of its number of participants, referred to as “medal efficiency”.

    3. Scaling of each country’s number of participants by its GDP per captita, giving a sense of the “national support” for each athlete, relative to the country’s wealth and population

    4. Scaling of each country’s medals won by per athlete national support, giving a sense of the country’s “return on investment”

  2. The second sequence examines the interpretability of the visual representation of several mapping options, focusing on the number of participants from each country for 2014:

    1. Basic choropleth

    2. Choropleth augmented by numeric values, scaled symbols, and radial bar graph

    3. Warped cartogram representation (from ScapeToad)

    4. Scaled cartogram representation (from indiemapper)

  3. The final sequence examines several “inverse representations” -  maps that show the complement of what is typically represented:

    1. Countries that have never participated in a Winter Olympics

    2. Countries that have participated in a Winter Olympics but have never medaled.

Visualization Developers

Karla Vega, Tassie Gniady, Patrick Beard, Eric Wernert


Tassie Gniady via


SOS at IU is funded through the Office of the Vice President for Information Technology and is supported by the Advanced Visualization Lab – a unit of UITS Research Technologies and the Pervasive Technology Institute. For questions about SOS or to request a consultation, please contact